Cause of Cannon fire under investigation |

Cause of Cannon fire under investigation

Staff and wire reports

A cause for the fire that took three men’s lives and burned 22,750 acres near Walker, Calif., won’t be released for at least four weeks.

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest public affairs officer Christie Kalkowski said a team of fire investigators will conduct an exhaustive investigation before submitting a report to either the U.S. Attorney’s Office, if the cause is determined to be criminal, or to the Forest Service’s General Counsel Office, which would seek to recover the costs of fighting the fire, if it’s found the person responsible did not commit arson or another crime.

Officials at the onset of the Cannon fire determined the fire to be man caused, though thus far no additional information as to the fire’s point of origin or cause of ignition has been released.

On June 18, The Associated Press reported Marine Corps investigators are trying to determine whether one of dozens of practice campfires being set by Marine mountain warfare trainees started the Sierra wildfire.

Marine Lt. Tara Burkhart confirmed that 35 trainees were undergoing survival training in a remote section of the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest where the wildfire erupted.

Burkhart also said the trainees, in the 12th day of an 18-day survival course, and their instructors tried to put out the wildfire but had to pull back as it started to spread beyond the area that’s off limits to all but the Marines.

‘They were not learning how to start fires when the fire started,” said Capt. Joshua Smith, a public affairs officer at Camp Pendleton, Calif. “They were near where the fire originated but not right next to it.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the Cannon fire, which began June 15, was 95 percent contained, had destroyed one home, three out buildings and claimed the lives of a C-130A air tanker crew after the plane lost its wings and crashed into a field in Walker.

Cost to fight the fire was estimated at $7.8 million. Claims for lost property are not included in the figure.

Kalkowski said investigators are following the Forest Service’s standard process for determining origin and cause of human-caused fires.

The four-to six-week Cannon fire investigation period is in direct contrast to the days it took for the Forest Service to pin the cause of the fire in the Pike National Forest on Terry Barton, a 38-year-old Forest Service technician, and then 11 days later charge her with arson.

Kalkowksi said the length of time needed for the Cannon fire investigation speaks to the complexity of how the fire started and what caused the fire.

“They really have to be through and exhaustive in what they do,” she said.

“They are following through the process. Until then we won’t know anything.”

The fire itself was reported to be 95 percent contained, and was no longer spreading. Crews continued to extinguish spot fires as they cropped up.