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Officials: Brush fire near Ring Mountain caused by illegal fireworks

(Video by Hector Calderon. Photos by Michael Coffee, Alice Lando and Naomi Friedman.)

Two kids reportedly setting off illegal fireworks June 17 ignited a half-acre brush fire on a grassy hillside above Via Los Altos in Tiburon, near several large estates and an access road that leads to the Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve, according to fire officials and eyewitness accounts.


Southern Marin Fire Protection District personnel were dispatched about 9:35 p.m. for a fire above the water tower at 98 Via Los Altos, an otherwise vacant swath of Marin Municipal Water District land on the ridgeline west of Ring Mountain. The parcel has homes on each side and below on the Y-shaped street.

Hector Calderon of nearby 102 Via Los Altos said he heard a loud bang and then saw flames, which prompted him to evacuate his home and call 911.


The Tiburon Fire Protection District and the Marin County Fire Department joined the effort to stop the flames, which were threatening the home under construction at adjacent 96 Via Los Altos, Southern Marin fire spokesperson Elysha Omoomy Costella said. She said the fire was put out by 10 p.m., with no injuries and no damage to any structures. Crews remained for another hour, digging a trench around the affected area. They hosed it down again the next morning after 96 Via Los Altos homeowner Julie Chaiken reported the ground was still steaming.


Fire officials said they found an ignited Roman candle on the scene and determined it was the cause.


Upper Cecilia Way resident Carolyn Dilena said she heard a boom that was louder than a gunshot and then saw fire “streaming down.”


“We were worried because it was very close to homes up there,” she said.


Christine Brent of downhill 93 Via Los Altos said she was coming back from an evening walk on Ring Mountain minutes before the fire. Once it started, she said, she saw the silhouettes of two young people and two e-bikes at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the area.


She then heard a boom and smelled smoke. Following the boom, she said, one of her neighbors saw two people on e-bikes “tear down the hill.”


Liza Coffee, who lives next to the water tower at 100 Via Los Altos, said the tower is a popular hangout and party spot for teens.


She said the fire left embers and burnt leaves from the trees on her patio. If the embers had landed on dry brush around somebody’s house, Coffee said, it could have been even more hazardous.


“I just hope they (law enforcement) are trying to find these kids because it is dangerous,” she said.


Tiburon police Capt. Jarod Yee said the department has been interviewing residents and reviewing surveillance footage in an effort to identify potential suspects. The department is also working to develop a portal where neighbors can directly upload surveillance camera footage from the area, he said.


Coffee said the incident was an example of how dangerous it is to ignite fireworks in dry open spaces.


“Fires are horrific and can get out of control so terribly quickly,” she said. “Had our fire department not been so quick to respond, and we are all so grateful for them, it could have been catastrophic.” 


She suggested the town add cameras by the tower.


Fireworks are illegal in Marin, and a misdemeanor offense of using or possessing them could result in up to $500 in penalties or up to six months in jail. Parties found careless or reckless in causing a wildfire can also be held liable; last year, the state billed the parents of two teens who started a fire in San Diego $675,000 for firefighting costs and damage.


Omoomy Costella said wildfire conditions are at their worst and said residents should take care to properly discard cigarettes, maintain their vehicles and properly secure tow chains to prevent sparks.


There have already been more than 2,000 wildfires in California this season, burning about 90,000 acres and destroying 13 structures, damaging nine more, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


The closest active blaze is the 1,200-acre Point Fire in northern Sonoma County, which was 50% contained and had destroyed 10 structures and damaged four more of June 19.


Reach Belvedere, Strawberry and public-safety reporter Naomi Friedland at 415-944-4627.

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