Men held on suspicion of starting forest fire |

Men held on suspicion of starting forest fire

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Two men were arrested Monday morning on suspicion of starting an illegal campfire that ignited into a small forest blaze.

Larry Swift, 62, and Ferrell Cahalan, 52, were camping behind the Heavenly Gondola, about 150 yards south of Montreal Road, when their campfire spread into the forest, authorities said.

Engines from the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, Lake Valley Fire Protection District and the U.S. Forest Service were called to the scene.

Firefighters had to hike water hoses to the fire, measured at 100 feet by 50 feet, over dead trees and dense brush, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department Cpt. Brad Piazzo said.

The blaze spread quickly through the timber and brush. Flames came within 300 feet of a motel complex but were swiftly contained by the three fire agencies. Firefighters cleared the area at 3:28 a.m., Piazzo said.

A South Lake Tahoe police officer responded to the scene shortly after 12:30 a.m. Beer bottles and newspapers were found on the ground, but the two men fled into the woods, police said.

The officer followed fresh footprints on the ground but lost them in the brush and darkness, Sgt. Alex Schumacher said. As the officer was about to turn back, movement was heard in the bushes and Cahalan was seen lying in his sleeping bag, Schumacher said.

Ferrell stood up in the bushes shortly after Cahalan was located, police said. The two were arrested on suspicion of causing a fire on forest land and remain in El Dorado County Jail at $20,000 bail each.

Both men denied causing the fire during police questioning but admitted to being in the area, Schumacher said.

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