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State won't seek repercussions in three human-caused brush fires of May 2020

Posted at 4:09 PM, May 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-15 19:09:25-04

Three fires that either burned homes or created close calls across the North Valley last May have been determined to be human-caused, although the responding state fire agency won't seek repercussions against the people involved.

Last May, North Scottsdale and Cave Creek were hit by three brush fires, the East Desert Fire, the Ocotillo Fire and the Peakview fire, in the span of a couple of weeks.

"All three...were human-caused on private property," said Tiffany Davila with the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

The Ocotillo Fire burned more than a half dozen homes in Cave Creek. The Peakview Fire came perilously close to several.

Davila told ABC15 investigators determined the Peakview Fire was caused by someone welding. The Ocotillo Fire was caused by grinding and the East Desert Fire was caused by someone mowing, she said.

"They were on private property," Davila said. "They weren't of malicious intent, so the state has decided to not pursue anything against the homeowners."

Davila said there are some instances where the department could reach out to law enforcement to look at a criminal investigation or the attorney general's office to try and recoup costs. As an example, she said illegal target shooting on state land could lead to a situation where the state worked to recoup costs from the person responsible.

"Private property, we can't tell a homeowner what they can and can't do on their own property," Davila said.

Davila hopes people are cautious about what they're doing and avoid activities that could spark a fire.

"It's an expensive lesson learned," Davila said of the fires last May. "Moving forward, people might realize, 'maybe I should hold off. Maybe the conditions aren't conducive to me working outside at the moment. Can I put off my work for another day?'"

Marie Hardenbrook, who has lived near 144th Street and Rio Verde Drive since 2009, said the Peakview Fire that came close to her home was a wake-up call to the severity of fire season.

"We were aware but not scared," she said of her perception of fire season prior to last year.

She recalled smelling the smoke from the Peakview fire and noticing when it jumped to her side of the road.

"If the wind had shifted, it would have been here," she said of her home.

Hardenbrook told ABC15 they routinely clear out the area around their home, but are even more cautious after last year's close call.

"Instead of maybe going out every two-to-three weeks, we're going out at night, every other day, and seeing, 'Ok, what's dead, what can we get rid of?'" she said.