AP NEWS

Body Beach fire was human-caused

April 2, 2019

Officials still don’t know who is responsible for Sunday’s fire near Body Beach, but they say it’s clear the blaze was human-caused.

Firefighters from more than a dozen departments feverishly battled high winds and 80-degree temperatures in an effort to keep a wildland fire from destroying millions of dollars of equipment and structures Sunday afternoon on the shores of Lake Havasu near Mulberry Avenue.

Brady Schultz, an Incident Command trainee with the federal Bureau of Land Management, said the fire is still being investigated by Barry Sullins. But Schultz did say the fire was human-caused.

The fire, which one BLM official said was measured at 55 acres, broke out late Sunday morning at Body Beach. Aided by strong winds, it quickly tore across the landscape, even burning in wet, marshy areas.

“We were here at the office when we saw the flames,” Mohave County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kyler Cox said. “It got dangerously close to our boats and the office. There is a couple million dollars worth of boats here.”

Cox wasn’t exaggerating when describing how close the fire got to the boats and other structures. Blackened ground, rocks and vegetation could be seen within a few feet of some of the sheriff’s office boats that are used to patrol the lake. The fire also burned to within several yards of the Western Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy.

The fire even jumped the road that leads to the boat ramp and burned within 40 or 50 feet of the office that the sheriff’s office shares with San Bernardino County.

It was a year to the day of another fire that erupted at Body Beach that sent several homeless people who camped there scrambling for safety, according to a previous Today’s News Herald story.

Officials didn’t know yet who was responsible for the fire, but Schultz acknowledged that the area has been associated with the homeless in the past.

Lake Havasu City Police Sgt. Tom Gray said the department have conducted regular patrols in the area of Body Beach and Rotary Park and have taken enforcement action when it’s necessary.

“Our officers have contacted several individuals in the Body Beach area over the past few months and advised them of the city ordinance related to illegal camping,” Gray wrote in an email. “Some of those individuals have complied and moved along after being told where they can legally camp while others have been cited for continuing to violate the city ordinance.

According to arrest reports from city police, a transient man and woman were cited for illegally camping at Body Beach Thursday night. The report said the man was at a site where there were several bags of trash as well as a fire pit for cooking, food, and cookware.

Police had spoken to the man on a prior occasion and he was told where he could legally camp. He was cited and released. He was told he needed to clean up the campsite area and leave.

The report about the woman was similar in that she was told she had to leave the area. But she allegedly had not. Several items had been found, including a burn barrel and cooking utensils.

“Individuals who are found to be homeless are advised of local programs that can provide assistance.”

Mayor Cal Sheehy said while the homeless have been an issue in the past, he said it was something that had been resolved previously.

“Homeless efforts in the city haven’t been organized, but we do have several groups which work with the homeless,” Sheehy said.

After last year’s fire, it was reported that many of Havasu’s homeless residents were camping in the thick brush at Body Beach prior to the wildfire. The cause of the fire, which scorched 98 percent of the land leased by the city from the Arizona State Land Department, was never identified. City work crews then bulldozed the brush away.

Schultz said the Lake Havasu City Fire Department took charge of the fire initially then when BLM crews arrived, they assumed control of the wildland portion of the blaze.

Several fire companies, including the Havasu department, worked to keep structures watered down in the event flames would have reached any buildings.

No injuries were reported.

Schultz said Monday’s efforts were focused at dowsing hot spots, and getting the fire more contained.

“The wind is supposed to be very strong tomorrow (Tuesday) so we are working to secure the edge and keeping it from expanding,” Schultz said.

In addition to Havasu crews, BLM crews from Kingman, Yuma and Yucca responded, San Bernardino County, as well as Desert Hills and Yucca, Golden Valley, Buckskin, state land trust, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Parker, and county jail inmates from Mohave, as well as Yuma and Lewis, assisted to clean up debris, equipment and boats.

“There were more than 100 firefighters involved Sunday and we still have 60 here today on cleanup and hotspots,” Schultz said.

Body Beach has been the site of numerous fires over the last several years. Some were caused by fireworks while a homeless man was charged with fleeing from police after he allegedly caused an accidental fire in December 2018.

Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 928-453-4237 or sshindledecker@havasunews.com.