A boy intentionally caused the fast-moving fire outside Jamestown last week that scorched more than 20 acres, a Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit spokesperson said Thursday morning.
The blaze incinerated fenced fields of grass and brush and scared scores of apartment complex dwellers on Seco Street who watched anxiously as the fire grew the afternoon of Aug. 8.
Emily Kilgore, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire TCU initially said the Preston Fire “has been determined to be juvenile caused.”
Kilgore did not release the boy’s age, hometown or name. She said no citations were issued. The case will be forwarded to juvenile probation.
Asked about whether any parents will be held accountable for the cost of fighting the fire, Kilgore said the case will be forwarded to Cal Fire’s civil cost recovery program for review. Kilgore said Cal Fire does not have an estimate on suppression costs. That will be generated by civil cost recovery personnel. Cal Fire also did not have a dollar estimate for property damaged during the Aug. 8 fire.
Residents who spoke openly about the cause of the fire a week ago, while it was still burning, were still surprised Thursday to hear a youngster is accused of sparking the blaze.
“Wow, I can’t believe it, that kids actually did it,” Anna Goodmanson, who’s lived on Seco Street for three years, said Thursday morning in a phone interview. “They should know better in all this heat. They should know better when a fire can actually put people in poverty, burn their homes up.”
Goodmanson said she believes parents of whoever caused the fire should pay the cost of fighting the fire. Goodmanson was among Seco Street residents who watched tensely as the Preston Fire blew up.
“While the fire was burning I heard a young kid was being blamed for it, for starting the fire,” Goodmanson said. “It did scare us. Looking back at the Paradise Fire, it made us realize this could happen here in Jamestown. It was amazing how the grass and trees lit up like it was nothing.”
Goodmanson praised firefighters for their rapid response that kept the fire from crossing Seco Street and burning any apartment complexes.
“They got there so quickly and got it under control, so our houses and apartment complexes weren’t affected,” Goodmanson said. “Some people did pack up fast to evacuate but didn’t have to. And props to the law enforcement, too, they did a good job keeping people out.”
The fire broke broke out before 3:30 p.m. on land south of Preston Lane that included private property signs and barbed wire fencing, across from several apartment complexes, including the Jamestown Apartments at 17925 Seco St.
Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit staff said the blaze was reported at 3:11 p.m. in the 10000 block of Preston. Ten engine crews, one bulldozer, and four water tank trucks were among the resources sent to the fire. Firefighters, reduced fuel, and weather shifts stopped forward progress of the fire by 4:45 p.m., but the fire was not yet contained. Fire agencies called it 24 acres burned total.
Responding aircraft included a helitack chopper carrying wildland firefighters, which landed, dropped firefighters off, fixed a bucket and started doing water drops on the fast-moving, smoke-billowing blaze that turned day to nighttime hues at times.
Low-flying tanker pilots dropped clouds of red retardant on flaming grasses and other vegetation. A spotter plane kept watch and directed air traffic for the helicopter and tanker pilots. Pilots had to avoid power lines along Seco Street and other obstacles as they maneuvered close to the ground.
Firefighters on the ground like Engineer Paul Lombardi of Cal Fire’s Jamestown Station hauled hose and hand tools into the burn zone to fight the blaze up close. No firefighter injuries or civilian injuries were reported from the Preston Fire.
The news that the Preston Fire has been determined to be caused by a juvenile now means youngsters have been blamed for at least two fires in Tuolumne County in recent days. On Wednesday, personnel with the Sheriff’s Office announced they’ve arrested and charged two 16-year-old boys on suspicion of arson and homicide in the death of a person whose body was found Tuesday morning in a residence destroyed by fire in the Big Hill area outside Columbia.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.