Tuolumne County law enforcement and government leaders continue to be frustrated by the lack of action and information from federal prosecutors investigating a man suspected of starting 2013's historic Rim Fire.
Official word from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fresno is: "It's still an active investigation."
Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento, added only that the case is "complex" and indicates it is being investigated by a federal grand jury. Hence, the suspect remains uncharged and free.
The suspect, according to federal officials, is a hunter who lost control of a campfire. Little other information has been released, fueling a firestorm of rumors about the cause.
This much is certain: The Rim Fire started on Aug. 17 in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest, near the confluence of the Tuolumne and Clavey rivers, about 20 miles east of Sonora. It burned for more than a month and consumed 402 square miles, or about 257,000 acres. It was the third largest recorded wildfire in California history.
Firefighting costs alone totaled more than $127 million. That doesn't include the losses suffered by property owners whose land and structures burned, and the businesses that lost a chunk of the tourism high season.
Rumors about who, or what, started the fire have circulated since Aug. 23, when a local fire chief speculated that an illegal marijuana plantation might have been linked to the blaze.
The U.S. Forest Service attempted to quash the rumor by releasing a few details: That the actual cause was a hunter's illegal campfire.
The attorneys themselves have declined to make statements directly to the press, and Horwood has been unable to provide more information about the exact status of the case.
"There are complexities to it," Horwood said. "They're looking over evidence, in discussions with investigators and determining which way to go from here.
"In a case like this, you don't want to go too fast before you have all the information. It's kind of the way a lot of federal cases are handled. It's a lot slower than how district attorneys handle it sometimes."
For the full story, see the June 20, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.