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Cal Fire: Arson arrests rise in the last few years

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KION) Arson arrests in California have almost doubled in the last two years, according to Cal Fire — but the number of arson-related fires has stayed relatively the same.

Gianni Muschetto, Cal Fire's Chief of Law Enforcement and Civil Cost Recovery, says it's largely due to the public coming forward with more information.

"Anywhere from eight to 10% of Cal Fire's total fires in our jurisdiction are usually determined to be arson. So that has stayed fairly consistent. But we have been more successful in seeing an increase in our number of arrests for those arson fires," said Muschetto. "With the large fires that have occurred over the last few years, the public is being more diligent and keeping an eye out. And when they do see a fire starting, they're passing that information along."

Cal Fire says in 2021, they made a total of 149 arson arrests in the state. There were 120 arrests in 2020. That's compared to 61 in 2018 and 73 in 2016.

Muschetto says there are two types of arson that are considered felony charges.

"Arson crimes can be either a malicious fire or what's called reckless arson. Malicious is what you think of when a person intentionally ignites a fire, whether it's a wildland fire or a structure fire," said Muschetto. "The reckless arson is something more where somebody is doing an act, possibly another crime that is so egregious, or reckless as that term would imply. And that causes a fire. A lot of what we will see is illegal fireworks."

Back in 2020, Ivan Gomez of Fresno was charged with aggravated arson for allegedly starting the fourth largest fire in Monterey County history. The Dolan fire burned almost 125,000 acres, and Gomez is scheduled to be back in court in late March.

Now, Cal Fire says arrests like this are becoming more common. So, what should you be looking out for as fire season approaches?

"When they see a fire, watch for vehicles or people that may be leaving the area. The smaller the fire is, the more likely that anybody close to it may have witnessed what started it or may have been the person that started it. So vehicle license plates, a photo of somebody, and calling 911 and reporting the fire and giving a description of what you see can stop those folks," said Muschetto.

Cal Fire also has an arson reporting hotline at 1-800-468-4408. They say you should call that number after you call 911.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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