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Suspect Arrested For Allegedly Starting Ponderosa Fire, Evacuation Orders Expanded

CAL FIRE / Twitter
 

CAL FIRE / Twitter

CAL FIRE Incident Page: Ponderosa Fire


UPDATE 6:28 p.m.: Evacuations for 2,900 homes are in place in Butte County as the Ponderosa Fire continues to spread Wednesday evening. 

The blaze has burned 3,150 acres and is 10 percent contained.

Investigators have a suspect under arrest who could be charged with starting the wildfire that has destroyed at least 10 homes and damaged others.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey says 29-year-old John Ballenger of Oroville is suspected of recklessly starting a campfire and allowing it to spread.

Ramsey says charges will be based on CAL FIRE's report.

"What we've got is, right now is, just the verbal reports, but the CAL FIRE investigators are extraordinarily thorough, so I would expect to get the - at least some of the preliminary reports - by tomorrow morning," says Ramsey.

Ramsey says Ballenger's arraignment will take place either Thursday or Friday.


UPDATE 5:13 p.m.: Cal Fire has issued more evacuation orders for the Feather Falls area east of Oroville because of the Ponderosa Fire. Crews have been concerned about increasing winds and high temperatures.

On Wednesday morning and afternoon, smoke from the fire was reduced to almost nothing and many people within a half mile of the fire had not evacuated, even though orders went out yesterday for 2,900 homes.

Loren Greiner lives next to the Cal Fire Incident command on Lumpkin Road. He stayed and watched the bombers unload retardant to create fire lines.

"Yesterday, they were coming in one after another and they just did a darn good job," says Greiner.

The most recent Cal Fire update says there is zero containment, but crews report success building lines.

Greiner  thinks the worst is over, but he's watching the fire trucks.

"I think I'm okay, but when the last one goes that way, I'm behind them," he says.


UPDATE 3:55 P.M.: Investigators have arrested a suspect for allegedly starting the Ponderosa Fire. 

John Ballenger, 29, of Oroville, was arrested on Tuesday. He is suspected of recklessly starting a campfire outside of a designated campground and allowing it to escape, according to CAL FIRE. 

The fire in Butte County has now destroyed 10 homes and 30 outbuildings near the community of Feather Falls east of Lake Oroville.

The American Red Cross says 2,900 homes are under mandatory evacuation order.

Officials issued an immediate evacuation order Wednesday afternoon:


UPDATE 11:15 A.M.: The Ponderosa Fire in Butte County has now destroyed 10 homes and 30 outbuildings near the community of Feather Falls east of Lake Oroville. CAL FIRE says another five homes and 10 outbuildings have been damaged. There is zero containment right now. The American Red Cross says 2900 homes are under mandatory evacuation order.

Two evacuation centers have been established. One is at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville. The other is at the Ponderosa Community Center in Brownsville. 

Because of a lack of cell phone service, contact between family and friends has been difficult. 

Kelly McLean and her boyfriend Larry ( who declined to give his last name) came to the Church of the Nazarene looking for their friend Jimmy Olsen. 

Larry says he and Olsen saw their homes burn and were looking for their animals when they became separated. 

"He was with me," says Larry. "We were going to get our animals. Everything's gone: the house, the cars, the pets. I walked through it in the dark, the power lines hitting me in the face."

McLean says Olsen recently moved to the area from Sacramento.

"He (Larry) made it out because he was born and raised there. Jimmy wouldn't have made it out through the forest. He would have gotten lost,"says McLean.

Larry says his entire neighborhood was destroyed.

"It looked like toothpicks that were burnt stuck into the ground," he says.

Larry also says a nearby neighborhood fared no better. 

"I couldn't tell where the houses were except for the chimneys standing."

A 10 a.m. call on Tuesday to the Butte County Sheriff's office started a search. Two hours later, deputies found Jimmy walking down a dirt road inside the burned area.

The Red Cross says 15 families are sheltered at the Church of the Nazarene.

Volunteers did not know how many people had left their homes.

Shelter for small animals has been established at the Old Oroville Hospital on Del Oro Road. Large animals are being taken at Camelot Equestrian Park on Clark Road in Oroville.


UPDATE 9:35 A.M.: Firefighters continue to battle the Ponderosa Fire burning in the sparsely populated area east of Lake Oroville. 

CAL FIRE says 10 residences and 20 outbuildings have been destroyed. Another five residences and 10 outbuildings are damaged.

Evacuation orders for those living along Ponderosa Way and portions of Lumpkin Road are still in effect.

An evacuation center has been set up at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. 


ORIGINAL: Firefighters have ordered residents to evacuate the rural hills above Lake Oroville under threat from a wildfire. CAL FIRE says flames from the Ponderosa Fire have burned 2,500 acres.

The fire sparked Tuesday afternoon as a heatwave blankets much of California. It's burning in the sparsely populated area east of Lake Oroville, about 70 miles north of Sacramento. It's not immediately clear how many homes could be threatened by the wildfire.

There is an immediate evacuation order those living along Ponderosa Way and portions of Lumpkin Road. 

An evacuation center has been set up at the Church of the Nazarene in Oroville.

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