45-year-old Fort Bragg resident Lee Jason Rupert was taken into custody by the Fort Bragg Police Department yesterday evening. He is suspected of purposefully lighting fires that led to the 1/2 acre blaze that scorched the Noyo Bluffs, as confirmed by Fort Bragg Police Department’s Captain Thomas O’Neal.
FBPD officers contacted some homeless individuals known to them who identified Rupert as the individual responsible for the lighting of multiple fires that led to the vegetation fire ascending the Noyo Bluffs.
Captain O’Neal said eyewitness testimony provided probable cause to arrest Rupert and he was booked in the county jail on suspicion of arson.
When asked how Rupert is suspected to have lit the fires, Captain O’Neal said the means of ignition is unknown but said he does not believe an accelerant was used.
Rupert is known to FBPD officers as a local transient, Captain O’Neal explained and has a criminal history common to transients.
Captain O’Neal explained that officers, as well as local firefighters, responded to the scene located near Noyo Point Road on the north side of the harbor near the Mendocino Indian Reservation. The location is, as Captain O’Neal described it, is known to be populated by several homeless encampments.
Captain O’Neal described the hillside where the fire occurred as being overgrown and said FBPD would be working with Fort Bragg’s Harbor District to reduce the foliage.
As per conversations with Fort Bragg Volunteer Fire Department’s First Assistant Chief Darrel Orsi, the fire’s point of origin was about “a quarter of the way up from the beach” and grew uphill to approximately a ¼ to a 1/2 of an acre before firefighters got control of the blaze. He told us high winds accelerated the spread of the fire
It’s important to note that Rupert has been booked on suspicion of arson and this claim has not been proven in a court of law and he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty:
Captain O’Neal requests that any Fort Bragg residents that might have witnessed the events leading up to the vegetation fire please contact FBPD at (707) 961-2800.