Suspects experimenting with pipe bombs cause fire

Douglas County officials are investigating a 1-acre fire Saturday night in Wellington they believe was started by suspects experimenting with pipe bombs and other incendiary materials.

East Fork Fire Capt. Terry Taylor said Tuesday the fire was ruled third-degree arson, a felony offense.

"It was willfully and maliciously set by human beings and primarily burning in vegetation," he said.

In addition to county law, the suspects would be in violation of federal law because the fire was on Bureau of Land Management land.

"They had constructed a variety of explosive and incendiary devices and also had components for additional incendiary devices," Taylor said. "At some point, they detonated at least one of the explosive devices."

The fire was located in the Red Canyon Road area in Wellington, 2 miles up the entrance to the canyon just prior to the major climb to the top of the canyon ridge.

"A neighbor called in the fire about 10 p.m. to Lyon County because she saw a glow in the canyon," Taylor said.

Authorities are looking for two white males in their 30s who were seen in the area around 6 p.m. driving a 1990s white Toyota extended cab pickup truck.

Taylor notified the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad, and the BLM who sent representatives to the crime scene.

"We interviewed witnesses who were first on the scene like firefighters, neighbors, people who came out to see the fire," he said.

Taylor said the fire was 12 to 15 miles from the Sleeping Elephant fire which burned 800 acres two weeks ago.

"This was billy goat country," Taylor said. "It's right on the edge of the BLM wilderness area."

Taylor said 30 firefighters from Lyon County, Smith Valley, Mason Valley, East Fork Fire District and BLM responded with seven brush trucks and three water tenders.

He said no structures were threatened because the fire was extinguished quickly despite the remote area and rocky terrain.

"Houses are about two miles down the canyon. Typically, with down-slope winds in the evening, it could have readily spread into Smith Valley. Conversely, up-slope winds from the east or northeast could have come over the hill and down into Fish Springs, Ruhenstroth, or Johnson Lane down the backside of the mountain," Taylor said.

"Because of the fuel and terrain, we're just lucky it didn't get any bigger," he said.

The suspects may have sustained minor injuries by burns or by fragmentation during their experimenting, Taylor said. The vehicle also may have fragmentation, burn, smoke marks, bubbling paint damage or long scratches from driving through the thick brush.

Secret Witness is offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to the conviction of the suspects.

Anyone with information is asked to call Douglas County sheriff's investigator Aaron Crawford, 782-9908 or Secret Witness at 782-7463 or 586-7295.


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