Our View: One year later and fire questions still burning

Our View
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It’s been a year since the 49 Fire, and what has changed? The answer: Everything and nothing. Certainly the lives of those who lost their homes, businesses, possessions and more were drastically altered after the 350-acre blaze took more than 60 homes and two businesses in its path. And now, a year later, those who had insurance are rebuilding or already living in brand-new homes. What hasn’t changed are the questions, fears and frustrations at the lack of answers and information revealed about the 49 Fire investigation. It’s now a year later and there needs to be a change, beginning with complete transparency as to what happened that day. The decision to withhold information from an anxious public leaves some to question and speculate as to what the truth could be. Officials say an arsonist started two separate fires just a quarter-mile away from each other and within 20 minutes of one another. How do they know it’s an arsonist? How did they start the fire? Is there any suspect information? These questions and more have been asked on several different occasions to investigators and every time the same response is issued: It’s still under investigation and there is nothing new to report. Recently another fire broke out in close proximity to one of the neighborhoods destroyed by the fire. Residents said the sight of smoke last Sunday surfaced memories and anxiety from this time last year when a large black cloud was one of the first signals that it wouldn’t be a peaceful Sunday. The 2-acre fire last week was quickly extinguished by nearby crews. However, when asked two days later about its cause, the answer was again, it’s under investigation. That has left some residents, including longtime Auburnite and 49 Fire victim Jack Kenny, uncomfortable. “My only major concern is these fires, how are they starting?” Kenny told the Journal this week. “If we do have an arsonist, how do we catch them? Every time I hear a fire truck it makes me think, ‘What’s going on?’” In addition to the fear, the lack of answers leads many to develop their own conspiracy theories and possibly doubt our state’s fire agency. Full transparency from Cal Fire would go a long way in easing any fears that linger and reinforce to the public that there is good work that comes out of the men and women who make it their life’s mission to fight fires. On the day of the 49 Fire, more than 700 personnel were on scene working furiously to protect what they could. In no way does anyone diminish the destruction of the 63 homes and two businesses completely destroyed, and the number of other structures damaged, but firefighters’ hard work saved countless other residents from enduring the same loss. And to those on the ground and in the air with hoses, bulldozers, and more fighting back flames in intense heat, the Auburn community is thankful for your hard work and the risk you took that day and every day to protect our lives and neighborhoods. The real issue at hand today appears to lie higher up in the fire chain of command. The idea that a public agency needs to be so tight-lipped about a fire that impacted so many lives in a tight-knit community needs to change. Taxpayers deserve to know how the investigation is going.