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Transient charged with reckless burning had fire inside tent, Grass Valley police say

A fire was located inside a makeshift tent, close to bedding, and resulted in the arrest of the woman living in the tent Sunday, authorities said.
Photo courtesy Grass Valley police

Grass Valley police officers conducting a sweep of area transient camps ahead of Sunday’s high wind event moved out a number of campers and arrested one woman on charges that included having an illegal campfire, authorities said.

The police department’s Strategic Response Unit was sent out Sunday morning to look for new encampments because of the extreme fire danger, Capt. Steve Johnson said.

“We felt it would be a good idea to go out and check the wooded areas in the city for active camps,” Johnson said. “With the colder weather, we had increased concerns about warming fires.”



The Strategic Response Unit team is tasked with a variety of policing duties, including patrolling the rural areas of Grass Valley to find illegal camps and campfire hazards. The team members interact with homeless individuals and work with various community organizations to offer services.

“One thing we have been very focused on is fire danger,” Sgt. Dan Kimbrough said earlier this year. “Last year, we started locating and tagging all the camps and trash areas, tagging with GPS on our phones on an overlay map of the city so we can plot those camps within the city limits.”



‘COULD HAVE BEEN DISASTROUS’

On Sunday, the team located five new camps mostly in the Loma Rica and Idaho Maryland areas, and the occupants in four camps were directed to services and available temporary housing in the area. There were no active fires at those campsites, Johnson said.

At a fifth camp located near Centennial Drive and Idaho Maryland Road, an active fire was found inside a makeshift “tent” of tarps and blankets draped over branches, Johnson said. There was a small fire and cooking grate very close to bedding, as well as a chimney pipe that had been pushed through a hole in the tent with the heat melting the tarp, Johnson said.

“The situation could have been disastrous,” he said.

The occupant was identified as Melissa Renee Howland, 37, from the Redding area.

In police interactions with Howland over the past couple of weeks, she was “very unresponsive” to offerings of services and housing alternatives, Johnson said, adding she received numerous warnings.

On Sunday, Howland was arrested on misdemeanor charges of reckless burning, as well as possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia after suspected methamphetamine and paraphernalia were located in a backpack. Her tent was dismantled and the fire was extinguished, Johnson said.

Howland was booked and released the same day, jail records state.

“In the end, what she really needs is help,” Johnson said, after noting Howland’s misdemeanor charges did not require her to post any bond. “Given the current system, it’s hard to keep someone in custody long enough to get them (that) help.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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