MENDOCINO Co., 8/14/18 — A series of small fires that broke out in the Covelo area on August 5, were caused by a chain dragging behind a truck, not an arsonist, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office has concluded. Despite many rumors to the contrary, the "Pine Fire," which started as 15 different small spot fires in Round Valley, was actually sparked by a chain dragging behind a vehicle, which resulted in several fires around the valley, one of which became large enough to destroy wooden fencing and threaten several residences and structures.
Several residents reported on social media and to local agencies that a person had been witnessed potentially lighting these fires, and due to the ongoing Mendocino Complex and Eel Fire, many in the community were alarmed at the possibility of arson. In response to these concerns, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, the Covelo Volunteer Fire Department, and CalFire investigated the incident, and discovered one person and vehicle on a surveillance camera that seemed to fit the description of the potential suspect. However, this person fully cooperated with investigators, and it was determined their vehicle did not match the one that was seen in the vicinity of the fires.
A second vehicle was then identified on the surveillance tapes, and investigators were able to determine that the owner of that vehicle had recently purchased a travel trailer, and had driven the same route as the one along where the fires had started — and moreover, that the trailer chains "showed significant wear from "dragging" on the ground." Investigators have determined that this is the cause of the fires, and the case is being treated as an accidental matter, not a criminal one.
Residents are advised to remain cautious about undertaking every day activities that could present a danger during fire season, and to remain vigilant about vehicle maintenance and use that could cause sparks and start fires.
Here's the full press release from MCSO:
DATE: "August 14, 2018"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Incident Number: 2018-22687
Crime/Incident: 451 PC [Arson Investigation]
Location: 76600 Block of Highway 162, Covelo, CA
Date of Incident: 08-05-2018
Time: 12:05 PM
Written By: Lieutenant Shannon Barney
On 8/05/2018 the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office was advised of 15 separate fires that started north of the town of Covelo in the valley floor of Round Valley. At the time these fires were reported there was a heightened awareness of fire danger due to several ongoing incidents, The Eel Fire, east of Covelo in the Mendocino National Forest and the Mendocino Complex, two large fires, burning between Mendocino and Lake Counties. Due to the large number of fires that started in a relative short time frame ( between noon and 3:00 PM) the community was naturally alarmed. 5 of these fires were started opposite the Round Valley Tribal Gas Station and Store on Highway 162, 9were started along Crawford and Refuse Roads, and one was started near the intersection of Biggar Lane and Highway 162. While no residences were lost, one of these fires destroyed a large amount of wooden fencing and threatened numerous homes and out buildings.
Rumors began to circulate within the community of a possible active arsonist within the community. A potential suspect was named and described as having been in a vehicle in the area where two of the fires were started.
In an effort to address the communities concerns the Mendocino County Sheriff's Patrol Division, the Detectives Division, Covelo Volunteer Fire Department, and Cal Fire personnel initiated an investigation into the possible cause and origin of the fires. A video surveillance system revealed the person who had been named as a possible suspect had a similar vehicle but found to not have the same vehicle that had been seen in the immediate area. This person was contacted, interviewed, and denied any involvement in starting of any fires. This person fully cooperated with law enforcement during this investigation.
In viewing surveillance tapes a second vehicle was identified and the owner contacted. This person had been towing a recently acquired trailer and admitted to having driven the same routes, in the immediate time frames as all the fires having started. An examination of the vehicle tow chains showed significant wear from "dragging" on the ground. A Cal Fire fire investigator was consulted and agreed the starts appeared to be consistent with a chain dragging behind a trailer and did not appear to be fires that were intentionally set. The case has been closed as accidental and will be handled in a non-criminal manner.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office would like to remind the public that we are facing extreme fire behavior. Fire fighters are currently facing many large fires so resources are stretched thin. The public is encouraged to use all precautions to limit the potential fire threats from daily activities.
Approved by: Lieutenant Shannon Barney