Officials ask for help in identifying parkway arsonist

Published: Saturday, Sep. 17, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 18, 2011 - 1:16 pm

Fire officials are asking the public to help identify the person responsible for a series of arson fires along the American River Parkway in recent days.

A total of 15 fires were deliberately set — nine on Sept. 10 and six on Wednesday, said Assistant Chief Scott Cockrum of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

The arson occurred near River Bend Park, in an area of heavy vegetation that could fuel a major fire, Cockrum said.

"In this area there are no homes, but there is dense brush, with trees, shrubs and a lot of dead stuff," he said.

A couple of small fires were reported at 6:40 a.m. Sept. 10, followed by another series of fires at 11:15 a.m.. Firefighters arriving at 11:15 initially spotted three separate fires that were rapidly spreading in the same area. A fire district helicopter crew reported additional fires between River Bend Park and Hagan Community Park to the east.

Several of the fires merged to form an approximately 20-acre fire in a designated nature area between the bike tail and the river, Cockrum said.

On Wednesday, firefighters responded at 4:45 a.m. to a report of three grass fires approximately 1.25 miles apart, also in the River Bend Park area. The fires burned about 1 1/2 acres.

At 5:32 a.m., firefighters were dispatched to three additional fires within a quarter-mile of the first three.

The Wednesday morning fires occurred near the bikeway and were quickly extinguished, Cockrum said.

On both Sept. 10 and Wednesday, people reported seeing a man on a 10-speed bicycle in the area at the time of the fires. He was described as white with short hair, and wearing gray pants and shirt.

Randy Lewis, ranger supervisor with Sacramento County Regional Parks, said the arsonist has targeted an area used for day camps and, on occasion, for overnight camping by groups like the Boy Scouts.

Because of the wet spring, it took a long time for vegetation along the parkway to dry, but now there is an abundance of dry brush.

"It's very dry and winds are starting to kick up. For arsonists, that's what they love," Lewis said.

Cockrum said there is no evidence that the parkway fires are related to a series of 12 arson-caused grass fires that occurred in the Rancho Cordova area during a three-week period in late July and early August.

Those fires were set in an area extending from just west of Bradshaw Road east to Mather Field Road, and from Folsom Boulevard on the north to an area south of Old Placerville Road.

Cockrum said investigators have not identified a suspect in those fires.

Anyone who sees someone setting a fire is urged to immediately call 911. If possible, Cockrum said, provide a good description of the person, the time the individual was observed and his or her direction of travel.

"At this point, we've asked law enforcement to provide a lot of support when we have a fire on the parkway," he said.

Lewis said considerable brush clearing has been done along the parkway near residential areas, including the Sunrise Boulevard and Ambassador Drive areas in Rancho Cordova, and the Sailor Bar area.

Although the recent fires did not threaten homes, Cockrum said people who live along the parkway should maintain a 30-foot to 100-foot clearance around their homes, and eliminate "ladder" fuels on their property that could carry flames into trees.

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