Several fires that scorched about 20 acres scenery along the Tuolumne River near the Mitchell Road bridge was started by an arsonist, said Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise.
Chief Wise said that an arsonist started lighting fires on the northeast side of the Mitchell Bridge and continued into Legion Park. Units from Ceres, Hughson, Modesto, Stanislaus Consolidated, Denair and Burbank Paradise worked over the next several hours to contain the fire. Through the local resource sharing agreement, Turlock City Fire Department sent a fire engine and a battalion chief to cover the Ceres station while all of Ceres Fire’s units were out.
“Unfortunately there were no arrests made,” said Dustin Bruley, supervisor of the Stanislaus Fire Investigation Unit. “Our investigators still have it as an open arson investigation. We believe that it was an arson; there were actually four separate fires along the river that were investigated that day. Multiple folks were stopped and field interrogated and unfortunately at this point we don’t have any suspect information.”
He said the river and Tuolumne River Regional Park are heavily populated by homeless persons.
“A lot of folks were seen leaving the area and pointed out as suspects,” he said. There was not enough evidence to warrant the arrests of several persons detained by Modesto Police and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies.
Wise said Ceres firefighters caught two small spot fires that jumped across the river and ignited along River Road.
“There’s camps everywhere down there – it’s unbelievable,” said Wise. “They got out of there and we helped evacuate the ones that we could get out there.”
He said River Oaks Golf Course was spared of any fire damage.
The fires and smoke caused a significant backup of traffic on Mitchell Road, said Wise.