Updated at 3:27 p.m. – The man who was arrested near the site of a 132-acre fire Monday evening in American Canyon remained hospitalized Tuesday with burn injuries and is a person of interest in connection with the blaze that briefly caused an evacuation warning in a city neighborhood, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.
Spreading quickly over arid grasslands, the Newell Fire broke out shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday in the Newell Open Space Preserve on American Canyon’s east side. The blaze prompted an evacuation warning for residents of the Via Bellagio neighborhood and caused the closure of American Canyon Road into the city.
Firefighters worked to corral the Newell Fire on Tuesday and achieved 100% containment by 6:15 p.m. Tuesday evening, according to Cal Fire's Sonoma-Lake-Napa unit, which revised the fire's size downward from the 150 acres it announced Monday night.
A 26-year-old man was detained by sheriff’s deputies who encountered him near a car that was in flames and off the road, according to the sheriff’s office. Witnesses saw the man trying to run from the burning car and pointed him out to law enforcement officers, sheriff’s spokesperson Henry Wofford said.
The 2000 Honda Accord sedan had been reported stolen in Vallejo earlier Monday, Wofford added.
The man, whose name was not immediately released, was arrested in connection with the reported theft. He remained hospitalized for non-life-threatening burns as of 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, and the sheriff’s office was awaiting medical clearance to interview him in connection with the fire, according to Wofford.
The Newell Fire spread to 150 acres and caused a brief evacuation warning before fire crews stopped its forward progress, according to Cal Fire.
Due to the expected length of the man’s hospital stay, Napa County has released him from custody but will continue to treat him as a person of interest in the Newell Fire and the car theft, Wofford said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s not a matter of if we talk to him, it’s a matter of when,” he said, explaining that the sheriff’s office will work with Cal Fire to determine whether the car theft and the fire were related.
Wofford said arson has not been ruled out as a source of the American Canyon fire, but spokesperson Tyree Zander of Cal Fire, the investigating agency in the blaze, did not say whether the state firefighting agency is investigating the incident as arson.
Less than an hour after the fire began, the Napa County Office of Emergency Services issued an evacuation warning for the Via Bellagio neighborhood in south American Canyon east of Highway 29. The notice, which was not an order to evacuate, was lifted shortly before 8:15 p.m.
During the fire’s early hours, the California Highway Patrol closed American Canyon Road from Interstate 80 to Highway 29 as numerous fire departments sent trucks and crews to the city. The road reopened at about 10:15 p.m.
The Newell Fire began during a red flag warning the National Weather Service had issued for parts of Napa and other Bay Area counties, mainly higher-elevation areas, due to a combination of strong winds, low humidity and vegetation left dry by the California drought. The weather warning began Sunday night and was to stay in force through 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Monday’s fire was the largest in two years to approach the city of American Canyon. On Oct. 6, 2019, the American Fire erupted on grasslands off American Canyon Road, spreading to 526 acres on slopes overlooking the town. The blaze forced road shutdowns and evacuation advisories in the northeast corner of the Vintage Ranch development.
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