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Thursday, March 15, 2012

USFS: Burn pile caused 2011 Ruth wildfire

Investigators looking into the damaging Sept. 23, 2011, Ruth fire have concluded that the blaze was caused by an escaped fire from a debris pile burn on private property.

The U.S. Forest Service recently released the heavily redacted investigative report, in which all names are blacked out.
The Ruth fire burned 1,452 acres of national forestland and private property, four residences and 27 outbuildings, and caused evacuations of the area. The fire was contained Sept. 29 and controlled Oct. 3.
“The Ruth fire cost approximately four and one half million dollars to suppress and rehabilitate,” the report states.
The Forest Service and Cal Fire investigated the blaze.
“Investigators determined the cause of the Ruth fire to be an escaped debris pile burning on private property adjacent to National Forest lands,” the report states.
The investigative team determined the fire originated on private property on Upriver Road. Likely using fuel and stick matches, the property owner had lit debris piles on his property that day, which, it was noted, was not an authorized allowable burn day in Ruth or the surrounding area. The property owner had been trying to clean his property, which the report described as well kept. However, the report stated, he “burned debris piles during a period of high fire danger and hot dry weather conditions.”
The property owner acknowledged that his debris pile burn could have started the Ruth fire and that a pile he lit in the morning could have reignited around lunch time, according to the report.
The owner said he saw the fire, about the size of a pickup truck, and tried to stop it before it escaped his property, the report states. Furthermore, the report stated that the property owner had experienced a fire escape his control on his property about three years prior to the Ruth fire.
“The investigation team determined (the property owner) made a poor decision to burn debris piles within adverse fire and weather conditions,” the report states. “Specifically, the debris pile of origin, surrounded by continuous low cut dry light vegetation (grass) in contact with a burning wood debris pile.”
The case was referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District, which declined criminal prosecution, citing absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“We have submitted it to our civil side,” said Daryl Rush, Forest Service assistant special agent in charge of investigations in the North State. “They will be communicating with the person responsible trying to recover restitution costs.”
Individuals who lost property will need to file their own claims, he said.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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