After numerous arson fires, citizen group solved the case using 50 cameras

A person is in a Northern California jail, charged with 10 counts of arson

smoke from a fire in Sonoma County near Monte Rio
Image of smoke from a fire in Sonoma County near Monte Rio as seen from the Alert Wildfire camera at Siri, at 9:37 a.m PT Feb. 11, 2022. The intersection of the lines from the two camera locations indicate the approximate location of the fire. More information about this fire.

Two women who were fed up with multiple arson fires set in the woods near Monte Rio in Northern California began an investigation that resulted in the arrest of Jack Stanley Seprish, a transient who was charged with 10 counts of arson in Sonoma County Superior Court. His bail was set by the judge at $920,000.

With the help of donations from the community of money and labor, they bought or borrowed and installed more than 50 motion-detecting cameras, with many of them mounted high up on trees in the forest around Monte Rio. Some of them could be monitored remotely and sent notifications to phones when motion was detected.

Below is an excerpt from the Press Democrat:

For [Kari] Morrissey, a criminal defense attorney, and her collaborator, Sara Paul, Seprish’s arrest marks the culmination of an intensive, three-month partnership with local fire officials — one undertaken on behalf of the community and with its support.

Funding for more than 50 cameras placed strategically near encampments and pathways that seemed likely to elicit hits, came largely from Friends of Villa Grande, as well as the private Bohemian Grove. Random citizens also dropped off money and cameras at the Monte Rio firehouse.

As a defense lawyer, Morrissey said she was not prepared to assume he was responsible for the fires “for quite along time,” however. Then May 6, a photo came across her phone of Seprish lying in the forest using some kind of torch that cast flames larger than a cigarette lighter.

It’s one of hundreds of photos she has turned over to Cal Fire, she said.

Person starting a fire
Person starting a fire. Kari Morrissey & Sara Paul.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Pat.

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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.

10 thoughts on “After numerous arson fires, citizen group solved the case using 50 cameras”

  1. Is it true that arson is only a misdemeanor?????Does it go by the value of destruction??? What is the value of deforestation, animal’s homes, evacuation of people?? Etc.

      1. Dave54 is correct in that areas of origin and means of ignition can be easy to determine . By the same token, if someone is using a lighter to start a fire, the area of origin will probably be found depending on lots of variables, but the means of ignition won’t be because the suspect stuck the lighter in his pocket and walked away with it. This is the kind of start than can really drive an investigator nuts. I’m sure too, that all the agencies involved were investigating .
        Other than what I’ve just said I really don’t want to go into details as to how a fire is investigated other than it takes lots of time and attention to details in putting a case together

  2. California Penal Code 451 – arson and it’s subsections are all felonies . California Penal Code 452 – recklessly causing a fire is what is known as a “wobbler”. That is it can be either prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts of the case.

  3. California Penal Code 451 – arson and it’s subsections are all felonies . California Penal Code 452 – recklessly causing a fire is what is known as a “wobbler”. That is it can be either prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts of the case.

  4. Hahhahahaahha!!!!! F**** you Seprish!!!! Busted by a bunch of CA wine moms!!! Nice work ladies!

  5. OH Boy let’s talk about human cause of fire and not think about how many acres destroyed by the let burn FS and there out of control fires 😏

  6. Certainly fires cause a lot of damage, but forest ecosystems are not usually “destroyed” by fire. Combined with other damage, such as post-logging grading, skidding, and leaving slash, the damage can be worse. Fires in “virgin” forests are not usually all that damaging to forest ecosystems and can be stimulating to certain ecological processes, reduce populations of invasive alien species, and perhaps other unknown factors. Change, even when brought about by fire, ain’t always all bad. Theoretically, there should be no reason for the losses of animals, including people and property, but some people seem to insist in making their property more rather than less vulnerable.

    Is an arson just a prescribed fire with a bad Rx, or have I got it backwards?

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