MADERA COUNTY – With all the recent fires in the Coarsegold and Yosemite Lakes Park area, residents are understandably on edge and have been demanding answers about what is going on. Is there a firebug on the loose, what is the cause of all these fires, and what is Cal Fire doing about it?
It has sparked some heated comments on social media, with some claiming Cal Fire is searching for a specific maroon sedan, and others saying that they aren’t doing enough to learn the cause of the fires.We spoke with Nancy Koerperich, Unit Chief/Cal Fire Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, to learn what is happening with the investigations.
“Cal Fire is very actively involved in these investigations,” says Koerperich. “It’s fairly unusual for us to have such a large number of fires in one concentrated area, and because it’s unusual for us in the firefighting community, we are bringing all our resources to bear on finding out how each of these fires was started.”
SierraNewsOnline has been on every one of these fires, and can report that Cal Fire investigators have been on the scene very quickly, flagging off the burn areas to protect the scene from being disturbed, and staying long after initial attack crews have left, scouring every incident for clues to its origin.
They are working round the clock, checking out every lead, and collecting every bit of evidence, says Koerperich.
Many of the fires are still classified as “of undetermined origin,” but others have been found not to be suspicious.
“Not all of the fires are of a suspicious origin, even though they may have started in the YLP area,” say Koerperich.
It’s still fairly early in the fire season, and people need to give extra attention to not only unusual vehicles and activity in their neighborhoods, but to clearing defensible space and the dangers inherent in the use of certain power tools.
As to why Cal Fire is not releasing more information on the specific cause of individual fires, Koerperich explains the investigation process.
“There are details of an investigation that we can’t release, in order to avoid compromising the process,” she says. “We’re doing everything possible to get every bit of information possible, and to quell the fires. We are concerned with protecting the public along with any potential case that may arise.”
Stopping the fires in their tracks is certainly the main priority in the moment they are happening, and firefighters have accomplished that task with little to no rest between incidents. Investigators have their own challenges, and we at S|N|O can attest to the fact that they are out there in force.
Koerperich also responds to rumors about specific vehicles or persons for whom Cal Fire is reportedly searching.
“There is no suspect vehicle,” she says. “We haven’t released any information like that. If we had something that we needed the public’s help with, we would absolutely get that information out to folks.”
As to what residents can do to protect themselves and assist in the process, “You can Be A Good Witness,” says Karen Guilleman, Fire Prevention Specialist for Cal Fire.
“If you see something, say something,” says Guilleman. “If you see someone in your neighborhood who seems suspicious, you need to be able to communicate to Cal Fire what made you suspicious.”
Guilleman says people need to note specifics – height and weight, clothing, time of day. What was the make and model of a car that didn’t belong? Can you get a license plate number; what was the direction of travel? All these details are vital in assisting investigators in pursuing any leads the public may provide.
“Whether it is a wildland fire or a house fire, investigators need your help,” said Cal Fire in a May press release. “The public is encouraged to call the CAL FIRE Arson Hotline, 1-800-468-4408, if suspicious activity is observed. Details, such as a description of suspicious people and vehicles are very helpful to investigators.
“Rewards of up to $10,000 are available for information leading to an arrest and conviction of persons responsible for committing the crime of arson within State jurisdiction.”
Another way to assist firefighters is to be prepared. Have an emergency evacuation plan, and a communication plan for your family. Know where to find those things you would need to take with you, and definitely clear defensible space.
Everyone should visit http://www.readyforwildfire.org in advance of what is sure to be a very challenging fire season. Don’t wait until you see the flames, take action now to protect your home, your personal property and perhaps your life.
Cal Fire will be holding a Town Hall meeting in YLP on Thursday, June 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Clubhouse to address concerns, answer questions and keep the public informed on the progress of their investigations.
In the meantime, everyone is encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open and Be A Good Witness.