COARSEGOLD – After two months of residents in the Revis Drive area feeling terrorized by what many were convinced was an arsonist, two of their neighbors have been taken into custody.
When a fire dispatch came in at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25, it was for the seventh fire on the cul-de-sac since May, with engines staging at homes on Revis Circle East.
The fire was contained at just .3 acres, but for once, the fact that firefighters stopped the blaze in its tracks wasn’t what folks on the road were concerned with.
Ken Jackson, 40, and his wife, Allison Waterman, 46, who live at the end of the cul-de-sac, were detained for questioning by Cal Fire investigators. Both were handcuffed at the scene and questioned by authorities. Jackson was then transported to the Madera County Sheriff’s Substation in Oakhurst. Both were later taken to the Madera County Jail and booked on arson charges in connection with a series of fires in Yosemite Lakes Park. Each is being held on $25,000 bond.
Jackson and Waterman live at the home at the very end of Revis Circle East, and most of the seven fires started directly behind their home or behind a property next to theirs, several with more than one point of ignition, says Cal Fire. One fire on June 12, burned over 60 acres, racing up Revis Mountain and threatening dozens of homes on Seminole, Sentinel and North Dome Drives.
Cal Fire investigators have been working diligently over the past few months, following every lead and working every scene, gathering clues as to who might be responsible for some of the fires in the YLP area.
Not all the fires were of suspicious origin, but many were undetermined and therefore of concern to investigators, especially with so many in the same area, some even burning into the blackened remains of the one before.
Undercover investigators detained Jackson and Waterman just as the fire started, and though Cal Fire is not giving more details at this time, one can surmise that the two would not have been cuffed and arrested had Cal Fire officials not had personal knowledge of their involvement in the ignition.
Battalion Chief Chris Christopherson has always said that arson is one of the toughest crimes to prove, and that a witness practically has to see someone with a match in their hand to prove the case. That is one of the reasons Cal Fire has kept details of their investigation under wraps so as not to compromise any progress they had made in pinning down the suspected culprits.
Suspect Ken Jackson was one of the first people interviewed by SNO, on the scene of the second fire near Revis Circle East on May 22. The fire started behind his house, and actually burned into the blackened area of a blaze from just a few days earlier.
Jackson told SNO at the time that just after dark, he had heard what sounded like kids yelling behind his house just before the fire started, apparently intimating that perhaps they has started it, but gave no indication that he had gone out to investigate. He told us that he only went outside after he heard neighbors yelling and saw an orange glow.
While firefighters were busy attacking the most recent fire on the cul-de-sac, which happened on June 14, Waterman told neighbors that she had called 911 to report it and showed them photos of the flames captured on her cell phone. She was also overheard telling a neighbor, “I asked my husband who he had pissed off. These things only happen when he’s at home,” apparently joking that someone was trying to burn their house down.
On the night of that June 14th fire, witnesses thought they had finally seen the arsonists. However, the men everyone reported seeing were actually the investigators, dressed in camouflage, working the case.
Jackson was out in front of his house that night, with the fire burning nearby, and told SNO that he had seen someone dressed in camouflage near the fire, and that he had run after him.
“I saw a guy dressed in camo up by the fire, and began chasing him. I yelled at him, ‘I’m armed and I will shoot you.’ But the guy jumped down off the rock he was standing on and disappeared into the brush.”
Jackson said he then ran back to his truck, jumped in it and took off after the white Jeep that witnesses had reported seeing, with two men inside, wearing camo.
The white Jeep story soon made its way around social media, after 15-year-old Daniel Nofrey chased it down the road on his bike to get the license plate number, and investigators made a few changes but still succeeded in their mission.
Don Nofrey, who lives next door to Jackson and Waterman, has had fire engines stage in his driveway at least six times to run hose lays to the various fires, and son Daniel, visiting for the summer, has gotten way more excitement that he ever expected.
Some residents on the street said the couple has lived at the home for about 8 years, but that they never really knew them until the recent rash of fires. As jangled nerves seemed to bond the neighbors together, they would all talk amongst themselves in front yards and driveways as big red engines became an all-too-common site along the street, and that’s how they got to know the couple.
There was a palpable sense of “gotcha” on Revis Circle last evening, and though the investigation is ongoing and the two in custody are still just the accused and have not been proven guilty of anything, residents felt a bit of relief from the stress that has become a constant in their lives for so many weeks.
Cal Fire investigators continue their work, and this is still an active investigation, says Chief Christopherson.