Suspect arrested in connection with wildland fire in Grass Valley
A 21-year-old man fooling around in an abandoned transient camp is believed to have accidentally started a 15-acre Sunday wildland fire, authorities said.
Timothy Bianchi was arrested by Grass Valley police and booked into the Nevada County Jail on a charge of causing a forest fire. He remained Monday in custody on $100,000 in bond, jail records state.
The county’s dispatch center began receiving dozens of 911 calls around 1:15 p.m. Sunday about a fire in the area of Loma Rica Ranch between Brunswick Road and Sutton Way, Grass Valley Police Sgt. Brian Blakemore said.
Grass Valley Fire Department and Cal Fire established a unified command and directed resources from a number of other fire agencies, including Nevada City, Ophir Hill, Rough and Ready, Deadwood and Washington Ridge conservation camps and the U.S. Forest Service. Due to high winds, aircraft were not available during the initial attack of the fire, Blakemore said. Penn Valley Fire provided cover engines and off-duty personnel back-staffed additional resources.
“A witness approached the fire incident command on Sutton Way and told me that they had information on who started the fire,” Blakemore said. “The witness watched as Bianchi walked into an abandoned transient camp location, and within minutes the whole area — which was just underneath some trees — the trees were engulfed in flames.”
Investigators from Grass Valley Fire and Grass Valley Police departments, as well as from the U.S. Forest Service, confirmed that abandoned camp as the area of origin for the fie, based on the fire pattern. Bianchi was located and taken into custody based on witness statements and the fire’s behavior, Blakemore said.
“The fire does not appear to have been maliciously set,” he said. “We don’t believe it was intentional.”
According to Blakemore, it also did not appear to have been any sort of warming fire or cooking fire.
“We think (Bianchi) was just acting foolishly out there and it got away from him,” he said, noting that wind gusts in the area were abut 20 miles per hour at the time. “From what witnesses said who frequent that property, he has been acting erratically recently.”
Bianchi denied any involvement in causing the fire, but his statements — while somewhat inconsistent — put him in that location, Blakemore said.
Bianchi was recently in custody after he was arrested Oct. 11 by Grass Valley police on the Loma Rica Ranch property. He was booked on an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for a prior drunk in public charge, and was released from jail Oct. 15 on a $2,500 bond, jail records state.
Sunday’s fire was fully contained late Sunday afternoon, with no injuries reported and no evacuations, authorities said.
Engine crews from Cal Fire, Nevada City, Grass Valley and Nevada County Consolidated stayed overnight to monitor for hot spots and mop-up continued through the day Monday, said Grass Valley-Nevada City Fire Chief Mark Buttron. Cal Fire also helped crews retrieve thousands of feet of hose for cleaning and re-use on Monday, Buttron said.
“We will be up-staffing additional engines for (today’s) wind event,” Buttron said, adding this was also done on Sunday and was one reason suppression was so quick.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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A panel of western Nevada County government agency leaders, along with community nonprofit and business representatives, will discuss the aftermath of October’s PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs from 6 to 9 p.m. today at the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Hall, 255 S. Auburn St.