Suspect Arrested in Series of Northern Mendocino Fires

A series of fires broke out across Northern Mendocino throughout the summer which caused many to suspect arson.  Monday, a suspect was arrested.  According to the Press Democrat, Steven Gene Hensley(36) of Willits  was “arraigned on 19 counts of arson.”

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photo by Jacob Whitney

Thanks to @OnlyInMendocino for the tip via twitter.

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9 comments

  • 19 counts?

    From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 24:

    “Steven Gene Hensley, 36, is suspected of lighting fires throughout the summer in the Willits area and Wednesday morning he was arraigned on 19 counts of arson, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.

    Hensley was arrested by state fire officials Monday afternoon. Firefighters in the Willits, Little Lake and Redwood Valley area have put out a series of suspicious fires in the past several weeks. Hensley has been connected to 19 fires, dating back to July 4, according to a District Attorney’s Office spokesman. They were mostly small fires that burned grass and brush. The largest fire was about seven acres. At least four of the fires burned last week, bringing a large response from state and local firefighting agencies in an attempt to keep the fires from spreading.

    While no structures were involved in the fires, several homes and buildings were threatened by some, fire officials said. Witnesses have identified Hensley as being seen at three of the fires. Hensley appeared in court Wednesday morning to be formally charged. He remains in custody in the Mendocino County Jail with bail set at $500,000 for the arson charges.

    But Hensley’s arrest also violated his probation for a 2009 domestic violence assault conviction, which means he cannot post bail. If convicted of the 19 counts Hensley could face up to 30 years in state prison. A motive for the fires, which appeared to be random, remained unclear Wednesday.”

  • 19 counts?

    From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 24:

    “Steven Gene Hensley, 36, is suspected of lighting fires throughout the summer in the Willits area and Wednesday morning he was arraigned on 19 counts of arson, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.

    Hensley was arrested by state fire officials Monday afternoon. Firefighters in the Willits, Little Lake and Redwood Valley area have put out a series of suspicious fires in the past several weeks. Hensley has been connected to 19 fires, dating back to July 4, according to a District Attorney’s Office spokesman. They were mostly small fires that burned grass and brush. The largest fire was about seven acres. At least four of the fires burned last week, bringing a large response from state and local firefighting agencies in an attempt to keep the fires from spreading.

    While no structures were involved in the fires, several homes and buildings were threatened by some, fire officials said. Witnesses have identified Hensley as being seen at three of the fires. Hensley appeared in court Wednesday morning to be formally charged. He remains in custody in the Mendocino County Jail with bail set at $500,000 for the arson charges.

    But Hensley’s arrest also violated his probation for a 2009 domestic violence assault conviction, which means he cannot post bail. If convicted of the 19 counts Hensley could face up to 30 years in state prison. A motive for the fires, which appeared to be random, remained unclear Wednesday.”

  • … and from The Willits News, August 24:

    “A 35-year-old Willits man is being held on suspicion of starting a “series of suspected arson fires in the Willits and Redwood Valley areas.”

    Steven Gene Hensley was arrested Monday at noon, according to CalFire Mendocino Unit Chief Christopher Rowney. Rowney would not release any further information about the specific fires Hensley was arrested for starting, nor what led to the arrest “in order to protect the integrity of the upcoming criminal action. Fire investigators, Fire Captain Specialists Shawn Zimmermaker and Craig Dudley, have been working tirelessly to put an end to the property destruction and life threat of these intentionally set fires,” Rowney said,

    Area residents had been growing increasingly alarmed by the number and frequency of “suspicious” fires targeting the Willits area over the past month. Last week, there were a series of suspicious fires Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on East Side Road, on Pine Mountain, along Shafer Ranch Road and along Highway 20 outside Willits. Wednesday afternoon, CalFire and Redwood Valley fire crews also battled a three-acre fire in Redwood Valley near Road A.

    On Saturday, a small debris fire was extinguished on Berry Hill Road on the east side of Highway 101. Sunday, there were two more grass and brush fires, at 1:23 p.m. several acres burned on red hill off Hearst Willits Road, with a second fire spotted adjacent to Little Lake Cemetery at 2:17 p.m.

    The Hearst Road fire had the potential for significant spread after the fire raced up dry grass and torched off timber. Heavy retardant drops and helitack water-bucket drops allowed fire crews to surround it and keep the fire from raging out of control.
    Although there was some spread by ember showers from torching trees, crews were able to contain the spread and divert resources from that fire to the Little Lake Cemetery area.

    The cemetery fire was reported first by one of the air tankers, returning to base in Ukiah for a retardant refill. That fire was held to less than an acre. Although structures were threatened in nearly all of the fires, quick fire response limited damage to grass, brush and trees.

    Last week, Little Lake Fire Department has responded to four grass and brush fires, one Monday afternoon, three Tuesday and one Wednesday. As of press time, the cause of Wednesday’s fire had not been determined, but the cause of the other fires was considered suspicious in nature.

    Wednesday’s fire began about noon nearly six miles west of Willits on Highway 20. The blaze scorched about three acres on the south side of the highway before being contained. Two full engines from Little Lake Fire Department responded, along with five CalFire engines and four hand crews. Hitting it hard with Helitack water-bucket drops aided by retardant drops from two air tankers out of Ukiah, allowed ground crews to stop the blaze.”

    From The Willits News, August 19:

    “…This week, Little Lake Fire Department has responded to four grass and brush fires, one Monday afternoon, three Tuesday and one Wednesday. As of press time, the cause of Wednesday’s fire had not been determined, but the cause of the other fires was considered suspicious in nature.

    Wednesday’s fire began about noon nearly six miles west of Willits on Highway 20. The blaze scorched about three acres on the south side of the highway before being contained. Two full engines from Little Lake Fire Department responded, along with five CalFire engines and four hand crews. Hitting it hard with Helitack water-bucket drops aided by retardant drops from two air tankers out of Ukiah, allowed ground crews to stop the blaze.

    Tuesday’s largest fire was contained at about 4 acres. It was called in at 11:36 a.m. in the Pine Mountain area. The location was along Lakewood Drive at Bear Canyon Road. The fire was stopped as it attempted to burn into a heavily timbered area. Although there were a significant number of structures nearby, none were affected by the blaze due to the aggressive response by the CalFire Howard Forest Helitack crew, two air tankers, two engines from Little Lake Fire Department and more than five engines from CalFire, augmented by hand crews from the Chamberlain Creek and Parlin Fork Department of Corrections camps.
    At 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, just as air tankers were released from the Pine Mountain fire, they were called back for a grass fire on Shafer Ranch Road near the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks. While the tankers circled overhead, fire containment efforts by Little Lake Fire Department and CalFire engines were helped by strategic water drops from the Helitack chopper. The combined efforts contained the blaze to less than one-half acre. Hand crews from Chamberlain Creek and Parlin Fork camps arrived in time to insure the containment lines held. With the quick containment, retardant drops were not needed and the planes were released.

    Tuesday night at 7 p.m., a blaze started on East Side Road less than two miles from the Monday afternoon fire. Little Lake Fire Department and CalFire both responded to the blaze in dry grass and manzanita. The fire was held to about two acres, even after it jumped an access road.”

  • … and from The Willits News, August 24:

    “A 35-year-old Willits man is being held on suspicion of starting a “series of suspected arson fires in the Willits and Redwood Valley areas.”

    Steven Gene Hensley was arrested Monday at noon, according to CalFire Mendocino Unit Chief Christopher Rowney. Rowney would not release any further information about the specific fires Hensley was arrested for starting, nor what led to the arrest “in order to protect the integrity of the upcoming criminal action. Fire investigators, Fire Captain Specialists Shawn Zimmermaker and Craig Dudley, have been working tirelessly to put an end to the property destruction and life threat of these intentionally set fires,” Rowney said,

    Area residents had been growing increasingly alarmed by the number and frequency of “suspicious” fires targeting the Willits area over the past month. Last week, there were a series of suspicious fires Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on East Side Road, on Pine Mountain, along Shafer Ranch Road and along Highway 20 outside Willits. Wednesday afternoon, CalFire and Redwood Valley fire crews also battled a three-acre fire in Redwood Valley near Road A.

    On Saturday, a small debris fire was extinguished on Berry Hill Road on the east side of Highway 101. Sunday, there were two more grass and brush fires, at 1:23 p.m. several acres burned on red hill off Hearst Willits Road, with a second fire spotted adjacent to Little Lake Cemetery at 2:17 p.m.

    The Hearst Road fire had the potential for significant spread after the fire raced up dry grass and torched off timber. Heavy retardant drops and helitack water-bucket drops allowed fire crews to surround it and keep the fire from raging out of control.
    Although there was some spread by ember showers from torching trees, crews were able to contain the spread and divert resources from that fire to the Little Lake Cemetery area.

    The cemetery fire was reported first by one of the air tankers, returning to base in Ukiah for a retardant refill. That fire was held to less than an acre. Although structures were threatened in nearly all of the fires, quick fire response limited damage to grass, brush and trees.

    Last week, Little Lake Fire Department has responded to four grass and brush fires, one Monday afternoon, three Tuesday and one Wednesday. As of press time, the cause of Wednesday’s fire had not been determined, but the cause of the other fires was considered suspicious in nature.

    Wednesday’s fire began about noon nearly six miles west of Willits on Highway 20. The blaze scorched about three acres on the south side of the highway before being contained. Two full engines from Little Lake Fire Department responded, along with five CalFire engines and four hand crews. Hitting it hard with Helitack water-bucket drops aided by retardant drops from two air tankers out of Ukiah, allowed ground crews to stop the blaze.”

    From The Willits News, August 19:

    “…This week, Little Lake Fire Department has responded to four grass and brush fires, one Monday afternoon, three Tuesday and one Wednesday. As of press time, the cause of Wednesday’s fire had not been determined, but the cause of the other fires was considered suspicious in nature.

    Wednesday’s fire began about noon nearly six miles west of Willits on Highway 20. The blaze scorched about three acres on the south side of the highway before being contained. Two full engines from Little Lake Fire Department responded, along with five CalFire engines and four hand crews. Hitting it hard with Helitack water-bucket drops aided by retardant drops from two air tankers out of Ukiah, allowed ground crews to stop the blaze.

    Tuesday’s largest fire was contained at about 4 acres. It was called in at 11:36 a.m. in the Pine Mountain area. The location was along Lakewood Drive at Bear Canyon Road. The fire was stopped as it attempted to burn into a heavily timbered area. Although there were a significant number of structures nearby, none were affected by the blaze due to the aggressive response by the CalFire Howard Forest Helitack crew, two air tankers, two engines from Little Lake Fire Department and more than five engines from CalFire, augmented by hand crews from the Chamberlain Creek and Parlin Fork Department of Corrections camps.
    At 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, just as air tankers were released from the Pine Mountain fire, they were called back for a grass fire on Shafer Ranch Road near the Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks. While the tankers circled overhead, fire containment efforts by Little Lake Fire Department and CalFire engines were helped by strategic water drops from the Helitack chopper. The combined efforts contained the blaze to less than one-half acre. Hand crews from Chamberlain Creek and Parlin Fork camps arrived in time to insure the containment lines held. With the quick containment, retardant drops were not needed and the planes were released.

    Tuesday night at 7 p.m., a blaze started on East Side Road less than two miles from the Monday afternoon fire. Little Lake Fire Department and CalFire both responded to the blaze in dry grass and manzanita. The fire was held to about two acres, even after it jumped an access road.”

  • I went all the way through school with that guy. It surprised me to learn that he was the one responsible for all those fires. What makes it especially odd is that his mother was killed in a vehicle accident years and years ago; she was trapped in her truck and burned. You’d think something as traumatic as that would have a lasting effect on a person.

    I guess sometimes people just go off the deep end.

  • I went all the way through school with that guy. It surprised me to learn that he was the one responsible for all those fires. What makes it especially odd is that his mother was killed in a vehicle accident years and years ago; she was trapped in her truck and burned. You’d think something as traumatic as that would have a lasting effect on a person.

    I guess sometimes people just go off the deep end.

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