Cause of Angels Camp structure fire “suspicious,” officials say

A firefighter hoses down the area in Angels Camp.

The cause of a 10-acre fire that started near O’Reilly’s Auto Parts in Angels Camp and destroyed a home Friday is under investigation.

After receiving multiple 911 calls, around 5 p.m., fire engines were dispatched to the incident, dubbed the O’Reilly Fire, which was initially reported at one acre in a field south of O’Reilly’s, the City of Angels announced in a press release Saturday afternoon.

The home that burnt was unoccupied. A garage, multiple fences and yards were also damaged in the fire, but no injuries were reported.

Responding agencies included the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, Angels Camp Fire Department, Altaville-Melones Fire Protection District, Murphys Fire Protection District, San Andreas Fire Protection District, Copperopolis Fire Protection District, Central Calaveras Rescue and Fire Protection District and Ebbetts Pass Fire Department.

In all, six Cal Fire engines, five fire engines with other local fire districts, a local government strike team and aircraft from Cal Fire’s Columbia Air Attack Base were dispatched to fight the blaze, which spread “rapidly to the south and west,” per the release. It eventually reached Utica Park, but the park was not damaged.

Several homes were “immediately identified” as threatened by the fire. Evacuations were ordered for residences on S. Main St., Utica Lane and in the areas of Bush and Echo St.

The Angels Camp Police Department (PD), Calaveras County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol assisted fire agencies with evacuations.

As the fire spread, the Angels Camp PD responded to multiple 911 calls for possible people trapped and structures threatened, and Highway 49 was closed in the area affected by fire activity.

John Rohrabaugh, fire chief of the Angels Camp Fire Department and Altaville-Melones Fire Protection District said Cal Fire planes were instrumental in protecting homes before ground resources arrived.

“It could’ve been so much worse … the aircraft saved the day getting up there dropping (retardant) onto Bush Street,” he said. “That’s what was needed to protect the homes and stop the fire spread until the engines got here.”

The fire was contained at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Through Saturday afternoon, crews and two fire engines have been consistently monitoring the burn area to ensure vegetation doesn’t catch, and will plan to be out there Sunday as well, Rohrabaugh said.

The cause was considered “suspicious and witness statements are ongoing,” the release states.

The incident was the second structure fire in Angels Camp in recent weeks.

In early July, the Angels Camp Structured Preschool, located in the 500 block of Stanislaus Ave. near Mark Twain Elementary School, burnt down. The cause of that fire was an electrical hazard, Rohrabaugh said.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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