Edward Frederick Wackerman, a 71-year-old resident of Mariposa, has been arrested and charged with starting the Oak Fire in July 2022, which caused $8.3 million in property damages and cost Cal Fire more than $100 million to fight.
Driving the news: The Mariposa County District Attorney’s Office has filed four charges against Wackerman: one count of aggravated arson and three other forest-land felonies. If convicted, they carry a maximum life sentence. According to investigators, there were a series of three separate fires set in the Carson’s Road area of Mariposa County in the days leading up to the Oak Fire, with a fourth fire set in the same area on July 22.
- Officials have not said exactly how the fires were started, if there was a motive behind the arson, or what evidence they have linking Wackerman to the blaze. They also are not releasing much information on the suspect himself, other than his age and that he is a longtime resident of Mariposa.
- The Oak Fire burned 19,244 acres over several weeks and destroyed 127 residences and dozens of outbuildings, prompting evacuations and an emergency declaration from Gov. Gavin Newsom. At its height, more than 2,000 firefighters battled the flames.
What they’re saying: Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said during a news conference that the investigation into the cause of the Oak Fire started the same day as the blaze itself and has been ongoing. “That investigation was daily — hours turned into weeks; weeks into months,” he said.
- Briese said he had promised to bring in every available resource to help find answers for the community and the victims of the fire. “This is a step toward justice,” he said.
- The Oak Fire was not the largest wildfire in Mariposa County, but it was one of the most devastating, according to Merced County Fire Chief Mike van Loben Sels.