Martis Fire nearly contained; cause under investigation | SierraSun.com
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Martis Fire nearly contained; cause under investigation

Andrew Becker, Sierra Sun

Despite a swirling wind of rumors and speculation that has spread nearly as fast as the Martis Fire initially did, fire officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to local agencies are tight-lipped on information regarding the investigation. Officials aren’t rushed to conclude their scrutiny either.

“This was a major fire and this is an important investigation. Speed isn’t our concern,” said CDF spokesperson Karen Terrill.

While Terrill said the person(s) responsible for the fire is still under investigation, investigators do have several leads. An escaped campfire is believed to have started the fire. CDF and Truckee Fire District personnel also responded to a fire the day before the Martis blaze began, and officials acknowledge a possible link between the two.

After a 911 call, two CDF fire engines responded to a fire at 7 a.m. June 16. After determining it was a wildfire and how to access the location, CDF contacted the Truckee Fire District at 8:29 a.m. The fire district responded with a water tender. Firefighters spent 3 1/2 hours and used 3,400 gallons of water to extinguish the 30 foot by 60 foot fire located on Forest Service land. The responding crew also cut a hand line around the perimeter of the fire.

“Firefighters believed the fire was completely out,” said Bernie Paul, CDF fire information officer. In a statement released by the CDF, officials found that the action taken by firefighters was “consistent with training and policy.”

“But that doesn’t rule out an ember that was outside of the perimeter line,” said Paul.

Investigators at the scene of the Saturday fire also found evidence of earlier attempts to extinguish the blaze.

“It looked like someone tried to put it out,” Paul said.

Although there was alleged evidence of a marijuana growing operation in the vicinity of the Martis Fire’s point of origin, fire officials have determined it is unrelated to the fire.

“We’re backing off on that,” said Paul in regard to the marijuana growing operation lead. “What was found was consistent with one, but we’re discounting that. It was not related to the fire.”

Detective Tim Hargrove of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Truckee Division was at the site Monday and saw no evidence of marijuana cultivation.

“I found nothing to substantiate there was a marijuana growing operation at the fire scene,” said Hargrove.

Investigators did find marijuana root balms in a trash container off Martis Peak Road.

“They could’ve been from any location and nothing tied those root balms to the location of the fire,” he said.

Hargrove said marijuana gardens have been uncovered in the region, but they are not prevalent in the greater Truckee area.

“It’s not something that’s common because of the altitude and the short summers,” he said.

Hargrove mentioned small gardens are frequently found despite the short growing season and variable temperatures, but there were no known large-scale operations like those in western Nevada County.

“From an elevation of 5,000 feet and down they’re pretty much everywhere, but not up here,” said Hargrove who worked narcotics for 12 years in the county and found “thousands” of marijuana gardens, few of which were uncovered around Truckee and eastern Nevada County.

Hargrove said when there is an outdoor growing area and farmers are taking care of plants, there are distinct paths and there were none where the fire started.

Firefighters from as far away as American Samoa and Hawaii have been brought in to relieve local crews that have been working since the fire started Sunday, June 17, at 12:04 p.m. in the Martis Peak Road area, east of Truckee.

Officials expected a complete containment of the 14,500-acre fire by Saturday evening and a conclusion to the investigation by early next week.


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