Cause of 4th of July fire at Cal Expo still under investigation, no threat to State Fair, officials say

The fire that burned 160 acres at Cal Expo on the Fourth of July poses no threat to Friday’s opening of the California State Fair, fire officials said Wednesday.

Sacramento Fire Department spokesman Roberto Padilla said the cause of the blaze had still not been determined, but “we can’t rule out arson.”

The holiday fire damaged 10 cars and forced the evacuation of the Raging Waters park and postponement of a Sacramento Republic FC soccer game. Cal Expo’s evening fireworks show went on as scheduled, however.

Padilla said his department is not concerned about a second fire rising from the ashes. “For the most part, there’s really nothing that makes us want to be nervous,” he said.

But pits of tree bark and roots could still be slowly burning underground, Padilla said, and these “smokers” can last for months.

“Even though you have dirt on top of wood, that fire keeps smoldering,” Padilla said. “But just because it smokes and stuff, it doesn’t mean it’s a major threat.”

Cal Expo Marketing Director Jennifer Castleberry said people arriving at Cal Expo for the fair’s opening Friday will probably never even notice that a fire happened at all. “The fire didn’t really affect our grounds very much,” Castleberry said. “Everything is moving as normal in preparations for the fair.”

Embers from the flames burned holes in some shade cloths and shade structures, Castleberry said, and ash had to be swept up to prepare for Friday’s opening.

“We have a lot of staff having to get ready for a fair and having a fire in the middle of all that makes folks work a little bit longer and harder,” Castleberry said.

The fairgrounds were lucky to be affected so little, Castleberry said, even on the night of the fire.

“We were very fortunate,” Castleberry said. “There isn’t any kind of residual odor or anything.”

Fires along the heavily wooded American River Parkway will be an ongoing concern for the Fire Department, Padilla said, and it will use the Cal Expo fire to learn how to better handle future blazes.

“Obviously, there’s still possibility for fire along the parkway,” Padilla said.

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