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Sardine fire cause uncertain, but 'suspicious'

Sardine fire cause uncertain, but 'suspicious'

As far as fires go, the Right Sardine blaze wasn't too impressive or destructive.

Reported just after 9 p.m. on Aug. 3, the fire was called 100 percent contained two days later after burning 40 acres of private forestland about five miles north of Gold Hill.

Investigators spent the next two weeks working to determine how the fire started. While no definite cause has been established, officials say it's possible the blaze is the latest in a series of arson fires in the Gold Hill area.

We don't have any 'smoking match,' said Oregon State Police Detective Monty Neal. But because of the nature of fires we have had up there, we're kind of looking at (the Right Sardine fire) as being a little bit suspicious.

Investigators know the blaze was sparked by a human, but Neal stopped short of saying whether he believes it was intentionally set. Lightning, electricity and mechanical problems were all ruled out as possible causes, he said.

— Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said investigators are asked to respond if circumstances surrounding a fire are odd.

The Right Sardine fire falls into that category, Ballou said.

On average, arson fires burn about 40 acres of land each year in ODF's Southwest district, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties. Just 8 percent of all fires in the district are intentionally set, Ballou said.

While firm data was not available Monday, Ballou said the Gold Hill area has historically had more than its fair share of arson fires.

It's been a problem out there off and on for the last 10 years, he said. It's quite a concern for us, because you never know where or when they're going to start.

In July 2004, three fires were intentionally set along Highway 234 near Gold Hill, officials said. The largest burned about 60 acres of grass and forestland before it was stopped, but did not threaten any structures. No suspects were ever identified publicly. Similarly, no buildings were threatened by the Right Sardine fire, which started adjacent to the right fork of Sardine Creek Road. Arson fires were also set on land around Gold Hill in 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2003, archives indicate.

Reach reporter Jack Moran at 776-4459, or e-mail Sardine fire cause uncertain, but ?suspicious?"jmoran@mailtribune.com.