Four people have been arrested on arson charges, accused of sparking the Pier Fire forest fire in Sequoia National Forest and the Giant Sequoia National Monument east of Springville that threatened several mountain communities, authorities in Tulare County said Thursday.
On Aug. 29, a fire broke out about 2 a.m. in the Tule River gorge when a stolen car was set on fire. The fire quickly spread to both sides of Highway 190.
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If convicted, the suspects face 15 years to life in prison, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said.
Isiac Renteria, 19, Richard Renteria, 21, Osvaldo Esparza-Guerrero, 20, and Breane Renee Ojeda, 21, all of Visalia, were arrested on Oct. 24.
The four have been charged with eight felonies, including aggravated arson in which more than $7 million in damages occurred, Ward said. They are also charged with a special allegation that multiple structures were damaged.
Bail was set at $420,000 for Isiac Renteria, $385,000 for Richard Renteria and $350,000 for Esparza-Guerrero, who are all still in jail. Ojeda, whose bail was $50,000, has been released from jail.
One of the suspects worked at a rental car agency at the Sacramento airport. They allegedly stole two cars and drove them to Tulare County, CHP Sgt. Chris Boudreaux said. A 2017 Dodge Challenger was driven to the gorge and set ablaze. The other, a 2017 Camaro, was found partly stripped in Visalia.
It took about three weeks to put out the fire, which involved 2,000 firefighters at its peak, Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Nelson said. No homes were destroyed, but 1,600 homes were evacuated and several structures were damaged. The cost of fighting the fire and of property damage totaled $40 million, Nelson said.
The investigation is still ongoing.