OAKHURST – With the stress and devastation suffered by mountain area residents during the recent fires, everyone is wanting to know how these fires started and who is responsible.
As reported by SNO on Sept. 18, one individual has been identified in connection with the Courtney Fire, and another with a string of suspicious fires in the Oakhurst area.
After a recent inquiry sent to the Madera County District Attorney’s Office concerning the Courtney Fire and the juvenile identified in connection with 13 fires considered to be intentionally set, District Attorney Michael Keitz has responded publicly.
The media inquiry received by Keitz alludes to arrests, and states that these cases have been turned over to the D.A.’s Office, specifically one involving “a 13-year-old.”
Keitz had this response to these assertions:
“There appears to be some misinformation and conjecture circulating regarding recent fires. First, as of now, no case for any of the current fires has been turned over to the Madera District Attorney’s Office for charging.
“Second, I am not aware of any arrests for these recent fires. We regularly communicate with Cal Fire regarding their cases. We are aware that Cal Fire is actively investigating a number of fires. However, we cannot comment on pending investigations. Additionally, communication of speculative information can impair investigations and damage potentially viable cases that might otherwise exist.”
As reported by SNO on Sept. 18, “Cal Fire Investigators, in cooperation with investigators from the United States Forest Service, have identified a juvenile suspect, in connection with a series of arson fires in Madera County.”
No mention was made of an arrest or the age of the juvenile in the information provided by Cal Fire.
As was also reported in that article, “Cal Fire, in cooperation with the Madera County Sheriff’s Department, has identified the person believed to be responsible for starting the Courtney Fire. This case will also be referred to the District Attorney’s Office for appropriate action.”
Again, Cal Fire has never stated that anyone has been taken into custody in the Courtney Fire incident, nor have they reported the age, gender or residence of any suspect, or whether the act was intentional or accidental.
According to Keitz, neither of these cases has yet been sent to the D.A.’s office, and any supposition beyond the stated facts is just that.
In order to properly prepare a case for submission to the D.A. and subsequent prosecution, investigators have a lot of, well, investigating to do. They have to locate and interview witnesses, collect and analyze evidence, send things off to the lab for in-depth analysis and follow up on leads. All this takes time, and unsubstantiated rumors can not only be harmful to innocent people, they can be damaging to investigations and any case that is being built against those suspected of crimes.
The public is asked to be patient and allow investigators to do their jobs. Getting it right takes precedence over getting it quickly.