Arson suspected in C Hill fire

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealThe burned area on C Hill.

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealThe burned area on C Hill.

A joint arson investigation continued Friday into an early morning fire that burned some six acres surrounding the American flag on C Hill.

Sheriff Ken Furlong said detectives had interviewed two men who admitted they'd gone up the hill just before the fire started, but the men denied any involvement in the four separate blazes.

"This is an open investigation for arson. There are no other reasons for those fires," said Furlong.

Dispatchers began receiving reports at 12:14 a.m. of fire on the hill that bears a large American flag made of aluminum. When fire crews arrived, they found flames snaking down the hillside around the flag. Three smaller fires, also believed to have been intentionally set, circled the area.

An hour before the blazes were reported, a Carson City deputy was called out at 11:15 p.m. to Terrace and Fifth streets at the foot of C Hill on a report of two men parking a car and walking up the darkened hillside.

The deputy was waiting for someone to return to the car when he was called out on an emergency, Furlong said.

When officers arrived for the fire, the car was still there. A check of the license plate led officers to a home on Goldfield Way, where they contacted the vehicle owner who said he had left his car there and gone up the hill with a friend.

The men said they abandoned the car because it was blocked in by emergency vehicles, said Furlong.

"They are suspects because they entered the area before the fire," Furlong said.

Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said the largest fire covered five acres, while the other three totaled about an acre.

Light winds and low fuel on the hill helped fire crews rapidly extinguish the flames before they crept toward homes.

Because of the destructive Waterfall fire of 2004 - in which nearly 9,000 acres burned and 17 homes were lost - a reseeding of crested wheat grass on C Hill reduced the amount of fire-friendly cheat grass, said Giomi.

"Crested wheat stays green right through the summer, and it does not grow in a continuous fuel bed like cheat grass does. Cheat grass is like a pocket of fuel," said Giomi. "No crested wheat burned up there."

Giomi said if the fire had grown and threatened homes, crews would have made good use of fire lines created by sheep intentionally brought in over the last couple of years to eat the overgrown vegetation.

And the fire crews had more on their mind than just preserving land and homes, said Giomi. They were also concerned about saving the American flag that has, in one incarnation or another, adorned the hillside since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"They were very cognizant and paid as much attention as they could to that flag," said Giomi. "It's a symbol to all of Carson, and it was clearly important to (firefighters). They wanted to do everything they could to protect it."

That point was evident early Friday morning as crews fighting the blaze atop the hill chattered on the scanner.

Firefighters could be heard repeatedly asking about the flag's status. When the fire was declared out, one unknown firefighter asked again.

"It's looking beautiful," came the reply.

The flag was unharmed.

The arson investigation is being conducted by the Carson City Sheriff's Department, Carson City Fire Department and Nevada Division of Forestry.


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