The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office has determined that Saturday morning’s fire in downtown Covelo that led to the destruction of four buildings was an act of arson. Investigators concluded the fire was set purposefully and are investigating multiple suspects who were seen in the area of the fire.
MCSO Sergeant Luis Espinoza explained that the Sheriff’s Office was contacted on Saturday morning and asked to investigate due to the suspicious nature of the fire. Arson investigators reported to the scene. Based on their analysis, investigators determined the fire appeared to be an intentional act and determined the cause to be arson.
Espinoza explained investigators collected surveillance footage of Covelo’s downtown and have identified multiple potential suspects. “We have been able to eliminate a few of those suspects”, Espinoza added, but “we are still following up with a couple of suspects that have piqued our interest.”
One day after the arsonist struck downtown Covelo, Sammy Tanguileg Junior was arrested in Covelo by Mendocino County Sheriff deputies for lighting a car on fire. When asked if Tanguileg is a suspect in the downtown fire, Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said, “We don’t believe he is connected to those downtown fires, but anyone that likes to start fires is a suspect.”
Ukiah Valley Fire Authority Battalion Chief Buckingham added, “The fact we arrested him for starting a car fire the day after the downtown fire is suspicious.“
Chief Buckingham provided an overview of how fire investigators determined the fire was set intentionally. He explained, “In a fire investigation, you have to identify all potential ignition sources and then start eliminating them one by one. Based on witness statements from nearby residents, we were able to determine the fire was at the exterior of the building to its rear. We were able to determine that it started in the area of what appeared to be a pile of old tires. There were no accidental causes anywhere around the area of origin. Once you rule out all accidental causes, you have to start looking at intentional causes. Based on the location of the witness statements, the time of day, and the fact the humidity was up, we concluded the fire was set intentionally.”
To aid in the investigation, Sergeant Espinoza asks the public if they have any photos or videos of the fire or the general area to contact the Sheriff”s Office and share their documentation of the event.
With the potential that the arsonist is still not in police custody, Sergeant Espinoza asks that “Round Valley residents be hypervigilant. We don’t know if the suspect is in custody and there is a potential this could be a recurring event. We ask people to keep an eye out and contact the Sheriff’s Office if they see suspicious activity.”
Sheriff Kendall added there will be extra patrols in Round Valley to maintain public safety.