Report: local teens started blaze that led to Martis Fire | SierraSun.com

Report: local teens started blaze that led to Martis Fire

Andrew Becker, Sierra Sun

The California Department of Forestry issued a statement Monday acknowledging that a previously escaped campfire led to the 14,500-acre Martis Fire.

However, CDF officials have ruled out any negligence on behalf of the CDF unit 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. “I don’t want to second guess their decisions they made on the scene. Hindsight would indicate that it should’ve been checked previously, prior to Sunday afternoon.”

Clarabut said the CDF unit 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. At a rate of 2,000 acres per hour, the fire burned across Interstate 80 and into parts of Nevada. The blaze was finally contained two weeks later, costing $18.5 million to suppress.

“Everything procedurally was correct,” Clarabut said. “Unfortunately they did not get out there soon enough.” He added that rekindles are “almost to be expected. That’s why part of protocol includes double-checking and triple-checking fires of this type.”

Two local teen-age males have admitted to starting the previous day’s Juniper Fire as witnesses led investigators to the two men within a week of the fire’s start.

As of Wednesday their names had not been released as there is still potential for criminal action, said Clarabut. Under advice of CDF counsel, their names had been blacked out on the statement to protect their identities.

“It is yet to be determined if the department will make a recommendation to file charges on the initial fire,” he said, mentioning CDF officials were aggressively trying to move forward with the case. A meeting was scheduled for Wednesday morning in Sacramento.

Around 3 a.m. on Saturday, June 16, the 18-year-olds – one from Truckee, the other from Hirschdale – 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. About two-and-a-half hours later the men thought they 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. that day, 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.