North San Juan resident raises questions after arson arrest |

North San Juan resident raises questions after arson arrest

Firefighters work the School Fire, which burned just less than 1 acre of vegetation off School Street in North San Juan Tuesday evening. Angela Sampson of Grass Valley was arrested in connection with the fire.
Photo: Elias Funez

An arson arrest at a North San Juan vegetation fire Tuesday evening resulted in the arrest of 35-year-old Angela Sampson of Grass Valley, authorities said.

The issue raises questions among locals as to why the situation took so long to mitigate, when 911 was called about Sampson the day before.

“She was dragging huge logs of wood through the staircase of the Brass Rail and across the street,” North San Juan resident Heather K. Vance said when she first encountered Sampson.

“She says she’s going to hold a ritual cleansing fire for 72 hours. She wasn’t aware that it wasn’t a good time to start a fire. She wasn’t putting it all together.”

After intervening and getting Sampson to agree not to start a fire, Vance said she called 911 given Sampson’s suspicious behavior.

“I got directed to the (Nevada County) sheriff’s and told them there is a mentally unstable person … that wanted to start a 72-hour fire.”

According to Vance, her call was then redirected to fire dispatch.

“The fire department took a full report and said because she hasn’t started an actual fire yet, that they couldn’t respond,” she added.

According to Vance, other members of the community had called 911 about Sampson with the same outcome. Those community members ended up making their own interventions, and kept a close eye on her Monday night.

When Vance returned to North San Juan in the morning, she said she checked on Sampson, who told her she was going to find somewhere else to do her ritual cleansing ceremony.

“We broke it down and she agreed not to do the fire again,” Vance said.

“Then we all started hearing this scream, that was repeated and then quiet,” she added.

Vance, and a friend who would later aid in Sampson’s apprehension, said they went to the cemetery where they saw two others discussing what to do about the screaming woman.

“So I went up and spoke to the lady, ‘What’s up Angela, what are you doing?’” Vance said. “’Just letting some steam off, I still want to do that cleansing ritual and that fire, I need to cleanse some things.’”

“She says she’s out here looking for her lost dog, Buttercup,” Vance said Sampson told her.

“’Well, I lost her and they started (messing) with my truck, so I set my truck on fire,’” Vance said Sampson told her.


A member of the community suggested Vance call the Nevada County Crisis Line through the Health and Human Services Department.

“(Health and Human Services) totally supported me and validated me and I was treated like a person,” Vance said.

“But if (Health and Human Services) did come up and do a check on her, and left her, then that concerns me,” Vance said.

After feeling defeated in her efforts to protect her community, and fearing her own safety, Vance loaded up some possessions and left North San Juan for Grass Valley Tuesday evening.

By the time she arrived, she learned that Sampson had allegedly started the fire off School Street near the cemetery.

“I protected an entire town with intention and looked her in the eye, and held off a fire for two days, when the law enforcement couldn’t,” Vance said.

“The only reason we didn’t burn to the ground is because all of my friends were warned,” Vance said.

“If that had started the night before, without the local presence, we would not have a downtown North San Juan right now.”

Andrew Trygg, public information officer with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, made no mention of being told about Sampson’s previous efforts to start fires prior to Tuesday evening’s School Street fire.

“We responded (Tuesday) night just prior to 8 p.m. Local residents had detained the alleged suspect, Sampson, prior to our arrival,” Trygg said by email. “Several eyewitnesses on scene were able to identify Sampson as the subject who had started two fires in the area.”

As a result of the investigation, Sampson was arrested and booked into the Nevada County Jail. Reports state she remained held Thursday on $1 million in bond.

For people in North San Juan, the inability to prevent an incident by calling 911 has them thinking about new ways to be able to care for members of their community during mental crisis issues.

“We have been talking forever about a crisis response team for our community,” Vance said.

“Someone to sit with someone if they are on acid, or keep a tweaker fight from happening,” she added. “North San Juan has a gift that we are non-judgmental in the right ways, and judgmental in the right ways.”

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez email, or call 530-477-4230


The Nevada County Health and Human Services crisis line can be reached at 530-265-5811 or toll free at 1-888-801-1437


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