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CAL FIRE investigates intentional cause of Avila Fire, evacuees express their concerns

Posted at 10:10 AM, Jul 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-26 01:40:42-04

CAL FIRE SLO officials continued the investigation on Avila Fire after cause and location of fire were determined. On Friday, firefighters said the fire was human-caused and intentionally set.

The investigators were able to determine the location of the fire was started in a creek bed along Avila Beach Drive, about 70 feet from the roadway, near the intersection of the Gragg Canyon and Mattie Rd.

CAL FIRE Chief Scotty Jalbert says the investigation is a very lengthy and time-consuming process.

"They literally get down on their hands and knees and narrow it all the way down to a very small portion of the fire to where the fire actually started," Jalbert said.

A large factor in determining if a fire was intentional or not has to do with its location as well as any evidence that is found in the case.

Part of the process, Jalbert explains, is based on witness statements, physical evidence and any other factors that can help determine the start of the fire.

Next, the process was to categorize if the fire was natural or human-caused. A natural fire would be due to instances such as lighting or refraction from a glass bottle, Jalbert says.

Then, the determination was if the fire was intentional or unintentional.

"As an example, someone was welding and they accidentally started a fire or they were mowing, and they hit a rock and those are all unintentional," Jalbert said.

Nearly 445 acres were burned, but no homes were lost. At its peak, the Avila fire threatened nearly 400 homes, forcing many to evacuate.

Some Shell Beach residents learned about the news today, already distraught from the events that unfolded last month.

Sheila Rhatigan has lived in Shell Beach for three years. She was told she would not be able to return home when the evacuation order was made.

“I don’t know why someone would do it, but its really a shame," Rhatigan said. "It really is hard to hear that someone just wants to cause that much pain on someone, that someone could just lose everything they have."

While her home is still standing, she says she feels lucky she had all of her loved ones with her at the time of the fire.

CAL FIRE says they do not have any information right now leading to a motivating factor in the case.

They are continuing to look for additional leads that might help them narrow down the search of anyone involved in the cause of the fire. Jalbert says he is hopeful someone will come forward with any information that may help the investigation.