51-year-old Watsonville man arrested on suspicion of starting 50 vegetation fires

Authorities arrested a 51-year-old Watsonville man on suspicion of arson Wednesday after he started about 50 small wildfires near Harkins Slough in the past year.

Cal Fire law enforcement officers arrested Jose Luis Sanchez about 9:30 a.m. on the 200 block of San Andreas Road, according to jail records and Cal Fire Division Chief Rich Sampson. A three-month probe that included investigators from the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office led to Sanchez.

The fires burned up to one-half acre of vegetation on Harkins Slough and private property, according to Cal Fire. Many of the blazes were "nuisance fires," Sampson said, which required firefighters to respond to hard-to-access areas of the slough at night.

"We were routinely having to go out there at night and put firefighters at risk," said Sampson.

It's not clear why Sanchez started the fires, Sampson said, but he was spotted at the scene of at least one of the blazes. Sanchez remained in Santa Cruz County Jail on Wednesday in lieu of $25,000 bail, according to jail records.

Cal Fire asked residents to report wildfires by calling 911 and make anonymous tips to its arson tip line at 800-468-4408.


By Stephen Baxter - Santa Cruz Sentinel
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