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Case against suspect in Grass Valley wildland fire moves forward

The suspect in the Oct. 27 wildland fire in Grass Valley that charred about 15 acres had been seen shooting flaming arrows into hay bales just days before.

That was some of the testimony heard Thursday in Nevada County Superior Court during the preliminary hearing into the evidence against Timothy Bianchi.

After the hearing, Judge Linda Sloven found enough evidence to hold Bianchi, 21, on a charge of recklessly causing a forest fire. He is set for formal arraignment Nov. 25.

Bianchi remained in custody Thursday on a $100,000 bond, court records state.

Grass Valley Police Sgt. Brian Blakemore testified there was a Red Flag advisory issued by the National Weather Service that day, with a planned power outage instituted by PG&E.

“It was extremely windy,” Blakemore said.

While at the Incident Command Post, Blakemore said, he was approached by a man named Joshua Crabb who told him he had information on who started the fire.

Crabb said he witnessed Bianchi walk into an abandoned camp site.

“Within a minute or two, a tree was on fire,” Blakemore said.

Crabb told Blakemore that Bianchi had been shooting flaming arrows into hay bales earlier in the week.

Grass Valley Police Detective Clint Lovelady testified that he interviewed several people who had been camping in the area. One man, Patrick Marino, told Lovelady that Bianchi had been “playing with fire” the day before, with a gas can and a torch.

Bianchi denied any involvement with the fire, Lovelady said.

U.S. Forest Service fire investigator Brian Donnelly also testified regarding how he was able to determine the general area of origin for the fire.

Donnelly said he was in the area at the time Cal Fire was called out and responded to find “very intense — I would say extreme” fire behavior.

Donnelly testified that while on the property he met Bianchi and Marino trying to put out the fire with hand tools.

“I told them to leave because it was unsafe,” Donnelly said, adding that both men continued to insist they were going to help. “I requested law enforcement at that point.”

Donnelly testified as to the physical evidence that led him to conclude the fire started in the vacant camp site, more specifically in close proximity to a tree.

“That tree torched straight up, in my opinion,” he said. “That was not due to a flame front pushing through.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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