Kelseyville man arrested, suspected of starting Oak fire in Lake County

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Cal Fire arrested a Kelseyville man suspected of starting a 53-acre vegetation fire Saturday that burned in Lake County and prompted evacuations.

Jody Buck Hickey, 39, remained in custody Tuesday in the Lake County Jail, following his arrest on Saturday. Cal Fire identified the cause of the Oak fire to be “equipment use,” and officials said Hickey ignited the blaze by welding and grinding in dry grass — reckless behavior.

The Oak fire started about 2 p.m. near Live Oak Drive in Kelseyville. About 300 people were evacuated and Highway 29 was closed for several hours. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office lifted evacuation orders about three hours later and all roads were reopened by 10 p.m. The fire was fully contained Sunday morning.

The blaze destroyed one building, but no residences, Cal Fire spokesman Bruce Lang said. There were no injuries.

The man’s arrest showed the level of seriousness officials have regarding heeding their annual, repeated warnings not to use power equipment during the heat of the day in fire season.

Annually lawn mowers and tools spark fires while being used on a hot, dry afternoon, including just over one year ago when a Potter Valley rancher using a metal hammer to drive a large metal stake into a yellow jacket nest in dry grass sparked the Ranch fire. The conflagration became the state’s largest wildfire, burning more than 641 square miles, starting in Mendocino County and blasting through Lake County. There were two deaths and almost 300 structures destroyed or damaged.

Hickey, working on a hot day in dry grass with power tools, was considered reckless by Cal Fire, leading to a fire and his arrest on the suspected felony charge.

“If he was doing that prior to 10 a.m., the humidity would be higher and temperature lower, which is all beneficial to preventing the fire. Also he had no water source or hand tools or anything nearby” to try and put out a small fire if one accidentally started, Lang said.

And while some property owners or workers may not pay attention to fire safety warnings, many residents are paying attention and they’re reporting inappropriate behavior, such as afternoon mowing in fire season.

“People are watching,” said Lang.

Staff Writer Randi Rossmann contributed to this report.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained misinformation provided by Cal Fire that the suspect could have avoided arrest if he had done his welding work earlier in the day and taken some precautions.

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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