Martis Fire caused by earlier fire; CDF unit cleared of blame |

Martis Fire caused by earlier fire; CDF unit cleared of blame

Andrew Becker

The California Department of Forestry issued a statement Monday acknowledging that an escaped campfire from a day earlier led to the 14,500-acre Martis Fire. However, CDF officials have ruled out any negligence on behalf of the CDF battalion in charge of suppressing the fire, despite the crew’s failure to check up on the blaze June 17.

“Usually something like that gets checked several times. Had it been checked as planned that would’ve been the first of several checks,” said Tony Clarabut, unit chief for the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit of CDF.

Clarabut said the CDF battalion that planned to check up on the fire Sunday morning was distracted by another call. Their intent was to return to the area after lunch that afternoon. But the fire blew out of control before the CDF crew arrived. The fire burned across Interstate 80 and into parts of Nevada, destroying a mobile home, a cabin and three vehicles. The blaze was finally contained two weeks later, costing $18.5 million to suppress.

Two Truckee, Calif. men have admitted to starting the previous day’s Juniper Fire. As of Monday evening their names had not been released as there is still potential for criminal action, said Clarabut.

“It is yet to be determined if the department will make a recommendation to file charges on the initial fire,” he said.

Around 3 a.m. on Saturday, June 16, the two men awoke at their Juniper Hills campsite north of Truckee to the smell of smoke and the crackling of fire nearby, the report stated. The campers attempted to extinguish a fire that had grown outside their fire ring using tools, water, dirt and a blanket. After about two-and-a-half hours the men thought they had quenched the fire and left the area between 6 and 7 a.m. Although the men later told CDF investigators that they had previous experience with campfires, neither had a campfire permit and were on private land.

Around 7 a.m. on June 16, a CDF engine crew conducted a smoke check, and joined by another CDF engine crew, attacked the fire, leaving the site around 11:30 a.m.

About four hours after CDF fire crews departed, the two men reportedly returned to the area where the escaped campfire had been. The men noticed three fires approximately 12 inches in diameter inside the hand line the fire department had created and outside the hand line they had created. The men again attempted to put out the spot fires using the same devices, including a machete. After about 20 minutes of fighting the fires, the men left when they did not see any more smoke.

The report indicated that the Martis Fire started sometime between 3:50 p.m. on June 16 and 12:04 p.m. the next day. Smoldering material within the 60-foot by 60-foot fire line built by the CDF crews crept through organic material remaining within an 8-foot section of the containment line, resulting in the Martis Fire, investigators found.

It was not known when the men’s names would be released.

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