California: report concludes BLM officer’s vehicle likely cause of Chariot Fire

CAL FIRE report about the Chariot Fire
Photo from CAL FIRE report about the Chariot Fire. CAL FIRE photo.

A report released Thursday by CAL FIRE about the Chariot Fire concluded that the most likely cause of the fire was a vehicle driven by a Bureau of Land Management officer.

The fire started July 6, 2013 40 miles east of San Diego near the Butterfield Ranch in the Anza-Borrego Desert, 3,000 vertical feet below the community of Mt. Laguna. Managed by CAL FIRE, it burned into the Cleveland National Forest not far from the Mt. Laguna Engine Station. The fire blackened 7,000 acres and destroyed 149 structures — most of those were at the Al Bahr Shrine Camp.

Below is an excerpt from an article at U-T San Diego:

…The state report says the fire probably started when brush got caught in the undercarriage of a Jeep driven by BLM field Officer Jason Peters as he drove along the desert floor. It mentions another possibility — that a pickup truck spotted in the area that afternoon may have been the cause — but says no additional evidence was found to support that theory.

Peters — who initially said he didn’t arrive on the scene until after the blaze began — has refused to cooperate with investigators since the early days of the investigation, the report said.

The BLM conducted its own investigation into the incident, but is refusing to release the results. A BLM spokeswoman late Thursday night said Peters is still a BLM employee who works out of the El Centro Field office.

The 318-page Cal Fire report, prepared by Capt. Kelly Gallaher, said the agency explored all possible causes of the fire, and eliminated all but two. A couple witnesses saw a pickup truck in the desert that day, but no further information could be developed about the truck or its occupant and no evidence was found indicating it was responsible.

The report suggests the more likely scenario is that “the fire originated from the vehicle driven by Jason Peters going through tall brush, either dropping burning brush into a receptive fuel bed, or a potential failed fuel line spreading fire on a receptive fuel bed.”
The document describes Peters under a section titled “suspect.”

The report details how Peters Jeep caught on fire in the parking lot of the Butterfield Ranch Campground the afternoon of July 6. Peters’ initial incident report is included in the Cal Fire report. In it, he says he saw smoke in the distance and went to investigate, at times driving over heavy brush. He then drove to the Butterfield Ranch store, parked his Jeep and went inside leaving the vehicle idling. When he came back outside his Jeep was on fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “California: report concludes BLM officer’s vehicle likely cause of Chariot Fire”

  1. I guess finding the smoking Jeep is considered a strong form of circumstantial evidence?

  2. When Agencies work in the wildland areas.. and in areas where formerly maintained roads are no longer maintained.. no wonder why both govt and public vehicles start fires.

    Kudos to BLM for stepping up and collaborating from day number 1 on the cause and origin investigation.

    Not quite sure why 318 pages were needed… but my guess is that most of that info was “supplemental” to the actual report.


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