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Foresthill residents seek accountability after Robbers Fire suspect's release

Judge rules insufficient evidence to hold Bryon Mason over for trial
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The man suspected of starting the 2,650-acre Robbers Fire near Foresthill that cost more than $13 million to extinguish has been released from custody, frustrating the hopes of some area residents hoping for accountability.

A judge ruled there had been insufficient evidence to hold Bryon Craig Mason, of Sacramento, over for trial on two charges of arson, including a felony count of arson causing great bodily injury to a firefighter, the Placer County District Attorney’s office announced Friday.

Mason had been held at the Placer County Jail since his July 24, 2012 arrest in lieu of posting $500,000 bail. The Placer County DA alleged that he sparked the fire by lighting and throwing an illegal firework at a swimming hole of Shirttail Creek.

The fire burned from July 11 through July 22, 2012 and consumed a single residence and four outbuildings, and flames threatened 170 other residences. The blaze spread through the American River Canyon between Foresthill and Colfax. It forced evacuations of Foresthill and Iowa Hill residents for nearly a week.

“I’m disturbed and disgusted and find it unbelievable that someone couldn’t be held accountable for that, because it was man made – that, they knew,” said Gerda Percival, longtime Foresthill resident and Placer County Museums docent. “If they didn’t find the right one, then they should really do all they can to find the proper person.”

The Placer County Superior Court judge’s ruling came Tuesday after a preliminary hearing had been held Feb. 14 through Feb. 20.

The court is set to discuss further proceedings in the case on April 2.

“The District Attorney’s Office disagrees with the judge’s ruling and remains committed to seeking justice for all the victims of the Robbers Fire including those firefighters who placed themselves at risk in order to mitigate the damage caused by the defendant’s action,” according to a press release from the DA’s office, which declined to release further details.

A message left with the Placer County Public Defender’s office was not returned Friday.

Suzanne Ewing, bartender at Foresthill’s Ore Cart Steakhouse and Red Dirt Saloon, said “we’re angry,” to learn the only suspect named thus far had been released.

“There’s no one being held accountable,” Ewing said.

On Friday, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant deferred comment on actions involving the case to the DA’s office, saying Cal Fire had already turned over all its evidence to the DA.

“We don’t want to jeopardize the trial that is still to come,” Berlant said.

In July, Cal Fire Unit Chief Brad Harris told the Journal that investigators felt it is a “very strong case” against Mason.

Percival, who has served various roles in the Foresthill including a past seat on the planning commission, said it appears the community has healed from the fire, but she questions whether its landscape will ever return to what it had been.

She hopes someone is found responsible, and, ideally, that person could pay restitution to cover some of the damages to the community and its forestry.

“That was a lot of acreage, and it will take years and years to recover,” Percival said. “If it can ever be what it was, I doubt it.”

Cal Fire’s cleanup effort concluded last fall, and it tried to mitigate the environment effects, Berlant said

“We spent several months after the fire was 100 percent contained working to rehabilitate many of the areas that had burned,” he said. “Since we used a lot of heavy equipment in there, bulldozers, we took a lot of steps to make sure the environment wasn’t negatively impacted from the suppression work.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews