Tahoe native is ‘person of interest’ in Angora probe
June 23, 2008
Authorities said they are studying a “person of interest” in their probe of last summer’s catastrophic Angora fire but lack enough evidence to make an arrest.
Donna Deaton, a special agent with the U.S. Forest Service, described the possible suspect as a man who is a “Tahoe native.” The Forest Service has been working with the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the fire.
Investigators think the Angora fire was caused by sparking embers from an abandoned, illegal campfire near Seneca Pond, a popular party spot near South Lake Tahoe. High winds fanned the flames, which quickly moved toward homes.
The “person of interest” has been interviewed and has built fires near Seneca Pond in the past, but the attorney’s office lacks the probable cause to make an arrest, said Bill Dillard, an investigator for the district attorney’s office.
Dillard said he hopes an arrest eventually will be made. Wildfire investigations sometimes can take a year or two to solve because suspects often keep silent for that long. But eventually, they open up, he said.
“The fervor dies down. They want to tell somebody, or they feel guilty, or they brag,” Dillard said.
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Often, investigations about the cause of wildfires are buoyed by those who were close to the site of incident when it started, Deaton said.
“We rely heavily on local residents and forest users to help us,” Deaton said.
If someone is found to be responsible for the campfire, they could face prosecution for unlawfully causing a fire, Dillard said.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in state prison and fines. Prison time is unlikely if someone is found responsible for the fire, Dillard said, although being found responsible for the fire could expose a person to millions of dollars in civil liability.
Investigators don’t consider the investigation into the Angora fire an arson case because they don’t believe those involved had “malicious intent,” Dillard said.
The district attorney’s office and U.S. Forest Service have spent hundreds of hours and sorted through hundreds of tips concerning who started the campfire.
“We, as an agency, are still extremely interested in that case,” Dillard said.
Dillard encouraged people with information about the cause of the Angora fire to call (530) 621-6702.