A woman who started two fires near Camptonville during wildfire season last year pleaded guilty to arson in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Sharon Ann Perkins, 39, intentionally set two fires in the Tahoe National Forest on Sept. 15, 2020, using gasoline and articles of clothing. Perkins told law enforcement that she started the fires in an attempt to burn down a travel-trailer she and her husband had been camping in.
The area where the fires were started – near the 17000 block of Highway 49 north of Camptonville – is within the boundaries of the Tahoe National Forest, which is managed by the United States Forest Service. At the time of the fires, the Forest Service had enacted emergency fire restrictions across California due to the limited resources and extreme fire conditions occurring across the state.
Around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2020, a passerby noticed flames through the trees near the highway. The witness reported the flames to the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office. Two sheriff’s deputies and Forest Service firefighters responded to the fire, which became known as the Joubert Fire. Responders noted two separate fires at the scene, one located approximately 25 feet from a travel trailer, and the second located approximately five feet from the rear passenger side of the trailer. Perkins was also located at the site, where she told law enforcement that she was trying to burn down the trailer because she was tired of her lifestyle, according to court documents.
USFS Law Enforcement responded to investigate the incident. A patrol captain interviewed the first witness – who reportedly returned to the fires after notifying law enforcement and attempted to suppress the flames using hand tools – as well as Perkins’ husband, who was not at the site when the fires were started.
Perkins told the patrol captain that she had started the first fire using her underwear, a lighter, and gasoline in an attempt to burn the travel trailer, and when it wasn’t getting big enough, she threw a can of gasoline on it. When it still wouldn’t catch, she poured a line of gasoline from the fire to the travel trailer but was unsuccessful at getting the vehicle to burn. At that point, she started the second fire using clothes, a blanket, gasoline and a lighter.
Perkins stated she didn’t know about the fire restrictions in the forest but admitted to seeing the large plume of smoke from the North Complex Fire burning just north of their location, and that she should have known that there were fire restrictions because of the smoke, according to court documents.
She was arrested on suspicion of willfully and without authority setting fire to timber, underbrush, or grass or other inflammable material upon lands owned by or under the jurisdiction of the United States. She was booked into Sacramento County Jail.
On Tuesday, Perkins pleaded guilty to the charge in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California. She is scheduled to be sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge on April 13.
Perkins faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.