Unsolved with Steve Gregory

Unsolved with Steve Gregory

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Unsolved Episode 408 - Wildfire Arson Investigation

Brush Fire Threatens Residential Neighborhood Near Glendora

Photo: Getty Images

There are more than 10,000 unsolved crimes in Southern California, most of which are homicides. Unsolved with Steve Gregory highlights cases that have gone cold, hit a brick wall, or just need that one piece of evidence or witness to surface to break the case wide open. The program features law enforcement agencies from Southern California, including the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the LAPD, the Sheriff departments of RiversideSan Bernardino, and Ventura counties, and federal agencies like the FBIDEA, and ATF.

On this Episode of Unsolved with Steve Gregory, we sat down with United States Forest Service Captain Russel Tuttle. Tuttle is a 15-year veteran of the United States Forest Service, receiving numerous awards for his work and outstanding performance.

Captain Tuttle previously served in the United States Air Force as a heavy equipment mechanic and a teacher for more than ten years.

This episode is part of Unsolved’s “Crime Fighter Series”. Captain Tuttle gives us insight into the 2014 “Colby Fire” that blazed across the Angeles National Forest.

On January 16th, 2014, the Colby Fire was reported at approximately 6 AM. The fire was burning along the Colby Truck Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains and quickly made its way across the Angeles National Forest. The fire burned approximately 2,000 acres across Federal, State, and Local jurisdictions. Six homes were destroyed, numerous others damaged, and the cause of the fire was unknown at the time it began.

At the time of the fire, there was unseasonably warm weather even though it was mid-January. The weather would trigger a Red Flag fire warning in effect with the Santa Ana wind conditions. A Wildland Fire Investigator from the Angeles National Forest conducted the Origin and Cause Determination and concluded that the Colby Fire had originated on National Forest System lands and that the cause of the fire was the result of embers from a campfire that caught surrounding brush on fire.

There was signage leading into the area stating that campfires and camping were prohibited in the area.

Steve Gregory explains why phos-chek is used to fight wildfires.

Thousands of residents in the surrounding areas were evacuated. While conducting evacuations of the local residential neighborhoods, Officer Miranda with the Glendora Police Department was informed by a local resident that two male subjects were running in the Flood Control wash, close to the 800 block of East Palm Avenue, Glendora, CA. Officer Miranda was able to locate the two subjects and determined that both subjects were running away from the general area of the fire’s origin. Officer Miranda noted that both had burnt ashes on their clothes and smelled of smoke. Officer Miranda arrested the two subjects for suspicion of causing a forest fire.

Shortly after the Colby Fire began burning, United States Fire Prevention Technician Szlauko was driving on Glendora Mountain Road and saw a civilian in the area where Glendora Mountain Road intersects with the Colby Trail, in the proximity of the fire’s general origin area. FPT Szlauko provided him with a ride out of the hazardous area to the bottom of Glendora Mountain Road, where FPT Szlauko advised the Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy staffing the road closure that FPT Szlauko suspected the man was involved with starting the fire. Subsequently, Officer Houser of the Glendora Police Department placed him under arrest for charges related to the Colby Fire.

All three subjects were interviewed multiple times giving conflicting accounts of their roles in starting the fire. After a number of interviews, one of the men stated that he wanted to come clean and would not cover for the others anymore. He fessed up and investigators learned that the three men had two illegal campfires along the Colby Trail. In the early morning hours of January 16, 2014, one of the suspects threw a notebook into the fire to keep it going. At that time, a gust of wind carried embers from the burning notebook into the surrounding brush and started the fire.

In addition to the damage caused by the fire, the cost of suppressing the fire alone was more than $6 million dollars.

The investigation, in this case, was conducted by the United States Forest Servicethe Glendora Police Departmentthe Azusa Police Departmentthe Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Arson/Fire Investigation Unit, and CAL FIRE. The investigation into the Colby Fire concluded that the fire had originated on National Forest System lands and that the cause of the fire was the result of embers from a campfire that caught surrounding brush on fire.

All three suspects, Clifford Henry Jr., Steven Aguirre, and Jonathan Jarrell were indicted by the Federal Grand Jury for charges related to the illegal campfire and causing the timber to burn.

The three men were eventually convicted; sentenced to federal prison and ordered to pay restitution totaling $9 million dollars. The ruling stated homeowners who suffered losses would receive priority over any governmental agency in the restitution.

Previous episodes of Unsolved with Steve Gregory.

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