Sleeping bags found at Nevada City fire site |

Sleeping bags found at Nevada City fire site

Sleeping bags, old fire pits and other signs of a transient encampment were found at or near the site of Sunday’s 5-acre fire in Nevada City, a fire official said.

“We were told there were some people living out there,” said Nevada County Consolidated Deputy Fire Marshal Terry McMahan. “We didn’t see anybody, but we did see some remnants of a camp.”

He said firefighters did a walk-through after the blaze was extinguished and found the sleeping bags and other signs of a camp.

There is still no official word on the fire’s cause, but locally, many fire specialists are pointing to the camps, where cooking or warming fires or careless cigarettes could be sparking the current series of blazes.

“It is a concern for us,” McMahon said of the homeless and transient camps. “Especially now as we transition into fall and the evenings are cooler.”

Ironically, Thursday, Sept. 11 is the anniversary of the 49er Fire that swept through Nevada County in 1988, the most devastating local wildfire in recent memory, which burned 33,700 acres and destroyed 312 structures, was started by a squatter and ruled as arson.

“It’s still dry but people may be wanting to have warming fires,” McMahan said. “The people at the camps don’t have permission to have warming or cooking fires; they don’t really even have permission to camp there.”

In addition to Sunday’s blaze in Nevada City, an Aug. 30 fire in Chicago Park was at a vacant structure that was said to be occupied by squatters.

Also, a homeless camp was located at the same site of fire a month ago on the Rough and Ready Highway near Twin Cities Church, McMahan said.

Several years ago, McMahan and former Consolidated Chief Tim Fike were partners with local law enforcement on a initiative to do outreach at the homeless camps, McMahan said.

“Chief Fike put out a flyer, and we delivered it to them,” McMahan said. “We wanted them to first get permission to be there, and we wanted them to get permission to burn.

“It was one of those things to help make them aware there was an issue,” McMahan said.

He said the initiative’s fire awareness component was discontinued, and that he wasn’t aware of outreach efforts to the camps recently, McMahan said.

“We have no idea how many camps are out there,” he added.

Cal Fire Capt. Fire Specialist John Hotchkiss, who is handling the investigation into the cause of Sunday’s fire, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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