A late night bonfire has been identified as the source of this weekend’s devastating Tea Fire that destroyed over 200 homes.
At a press conference last night, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said 10 young adults have been identified as participants in a gathering late Wednesday night at the property known as the Tea House – the origin being the Tea Garden next to it. According to Brown, the group said they believed they had extinguished the bonfire after having left the area sometime between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m.
Hot and windy weather conditions reignited the lingering sparks from the bonfire, which quickly spread over a large swath of Montecito and Santa Barbara, eventually burning 1,940 acres and 210 residences over the weekend.
After receiving 40 tips regarding the bonfire in the days following the fire, the Sheriff’s Dept. was able to contact the group of people involved.
The district attorney’s office will determine whether or not charges will be filed against the 10 individuals in question. If the suspects are charged and convicted of negligence, they may be responsible for financial restitution for the damages as well as the cost of fighting the fire, which has been estimated at $4.9 million.
A value has yet to be determined for property damages sustained in the fire.
County officials have also named a suspect in last summer’s Gap Fire, which ravaged nearly 10,000 acres of mountain terrain above Goleta, forcing thousands to evacuate. The suspect, a 16-year-old currently serving time on unrelated charges at a juvenile detention facility in Santa Maria, has been arrested on charges of arson.
The Gap Fire persisted for nearly the entire month of July and cost the county an estimated $20 million to contain and suppress.