Crime - Sacto 911

Motorist tried to stop driver suspected of starting Calaveras wildfire

A vehicle driven on its wheel rim by a DUI suspect is believed to have sparked a Calaveras County wildfire that has burned 450 acres.

The Willow Fire broke out about 1 p.m. Sunday off Willow Creek Road and Mountain Ranch Road east of the town of San Andreas. It spread in dry grass and oak woodland, requiring quick action from ground crews and Cal Fire air tankers dropping fire retardant.

As of Monday, the fire was 30 percent contained.

California Highway Patrol officers arrested the driver of the sparking car, 44-year-old Renee Hogan, near her vehicle. Hogan, a resident of the Calaveras County community of West Point, was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

Authorities later added charges, including a count of unlawfully causing a fire that burns a home and seven counts of causing a fire to burn a structure or forestland.

Hogan was driving east on Mountain Ranch Road when her right rear tire went flat and the vehicle began riding on the rim. The rim sent a shower of sparks that ignited grass along the shoulder, according to a CHP news release.

A motorist behind Hogan tried to get her to pull over, but she would not stop. The witness then passed Hogan and used his vehicle to block her path, authorities said.

He then spoke to Hogan, who apparently did not know that her vehicle had a flat. Hogan’s vehicle caught fire, requiring the good Samaritan to rescue Hogan.

She was arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of a controlled substance and driving on a suspended driver’s license.

“A drug recognition expert determined that Hogan was under the influence of a narcotic analgesic and cannabis at the time of the incident,” the CHP news release said.

On Monday, 300 fire personnel were assigned to the Willow Fire.

An evacuation center was set up at San Andreas Town Hall, 24 Church Road.

Bee reporter Dale Kasler contributed to this story.

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews