A woman was arrested and booked this week on suspicion of intentionally starting a destructive fire in an upscale Calaveras County subdivision during a wildfire state of emergency.
The blaze damaged an inhabited home worth more than $350,000 and burned more than one-tenth of one acre of vegetation in the Forest Meadows subdivision that is home to more than 500 residences near the western edge of the fire-prone Stanislaus National Forest on State Highway 4.
The fire was reported between 2:30 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. Tuesday in the 800 block of Sandalwood Drive, according to communications staff with Cal Fire’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit.
The fire burned 0.14 of one acre and damaged an adjacent residence between Forest Meadows Golf Course and a Forest Meadows dozer line fire break. Cal Fire TCU staff said the fire was extinguished by 2:50 p.m. The home that was damaged was recently valued at $365,600.
About two hours later, Katrina Kelly, 25, was arrested on suspicion of two felonies: arson to an inhabited structure and committing arson during the current state of emergency declared by the governor four months ago due to extreme peril posed by wildfire risk. She remained behind bars in Calaveras County Jail on Friday and her bail was $350,000, a jail employee said in a phone interview.
The alleged arson fire occurred on a day with lightning strike fires and high temperatures ranging from 86 degrees in Arnold to 94 degrees on Murphys Grade Road, according to Eric Kurth with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
Morning monsoonal moisture and elevated thunderstorms built up over parts of Calaveras County before noon Tuesday. Cal Fire TCU personnel responded to lightning strike fires in places including Swiss Ranch Road near Mountain Ranch Road, the North Fork Mokelumne River near Glencoe, and west of New Melones Reservoir near Copperopolis.
No one answered the phone Friday at the home that burned Tuesday, though someone did pick up the phone while it rang and hung it up again.
Cal Fire staff say California has been in a declared state of emergency since March 22 due to tree die-off, worsening forest conditions, extremely dangerous fire risk and the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in state history, in 2018 and 2017. The crime of arson typically carries a prison sentence of 16 months to nine years.
During a state of emergency, the potential prison sentence for committing the crime of arson is increased, Cal Fire TCU staff said. They did not say how much a prison sentence for arson increases during a state of emergency.
Matthew Gilbert, a TCU battalion chief for fire prevention and law enforcement, said Friday any prison sentence increase during a state of emergency would vary depending on injuries and what burned. No injuries were reported in the alleged arson fire Tuesday in Forest Meadows.
According to a Forest Meadows website, the subdivision is a gated, residential community of nearly 600 homes at 3,300 feet elevation, five miles east of Murphys. The website touts gated private roads with security patrols, two community parks featuring swimming pools, tennis and bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, children's playgrounds, basketball and pickleball courts, and picnic areas with barbecue grills.
Forest Meadows is also a census-designated place of 5.7 square miles with a population of more than 1,200 people in 2010.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.