49 Fire arson – Speak up, help find fire starters

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Fire investigators have completed the first phase of their work. Now it’s up to the public to step up. Anyone with any information related to two arson fires that merged into the devastating 49 Fire on Aug. 30 are urged to contact Cal Fire’s arson hotline. No piece of information is too small or insignificant. According to Cal Fire, arson was determined to be the “final cause” of the fire that destroyed 63 homes, two businesses and two dozen outbuildings in a 350-acre swath north/northeast of Highway 49 and Bell Road. Damage has been estimated at $40 million. Arson was determined after all other causes had been eliminated, Cal Fire officials said. Monday’s announcement rules out other causes – such as equipment failure at the Pacific Gas & Electric utility pole at Highway 49 and Rock Creek Road, or accidental causes like a mower or vehicle spark. “We went through a lengthy investigation process and when it came down to a final cause it was arson,” said Cal Fire Unit Chief Brad Harris. While this announcement provides closure for some, it’s really the beginning of what could be a lengthy probe to find the person or persons responsible. That’s why every possible tip, even if it doesn’t appear consequential, is important to fire investigators. Monday’s press conference also revealed a new wrinkle – that a second fire was set near Quartz Drive, about 20 minutes later and a quarter-mile east from the Highway 49/Rock Creek Road origin. Since strong, hot northerly winds were blowing that fateful day, the Quartz Drive fire expanded the fire zone greatly, making containment much more difficult. From an aerial view, it appears the two fires could have converged near or north of Locksley Lane. Joining strength, they raged north across open scrub land west of the Auburn Airport before burning the dense residential neighborhoods off Dry Creek Road. If the two fires were set by the same person, or people working together, did they know what type of devastation they would cause? Did they know they were endangering hundreds of residents and nearly 200 firefighters? Did they know they would turn so many lives – and a community – upside down? And that the community would be far more resilient in the face of their cowardly actions? Auburn has shown itself to be a compassionate, caring community in the wake of the 49 Fire. Through countless fundraisers, more than $100,000 has been raised for the fire victims, and more donations come in every day. But the fire victims, and the Auburn community that has supported them, deserve justice, too. That begins with finding the persons responsible, and then securing a conviction in court. Did you see something that day that looked odd, only that you’re recalling it now? Did someone you know – or don’t know – say something odd that didn’t make sense, but now does? If you have information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists, Cal Fire is offering a $10,000 reward. Moreover, your information could take a potential murderer off the streets. Arsonists often don’t stop setting fires until they get caught. Despite the tragedy, we were lucky there were no deaths or serious injuries with the 49 Fire. Will we be so lucky next time? -------------------------- Cal Fire Hotline: 1-800-468-4408