Humboldt Beacon (http://www.humboldtbeacon.com)

UPDATE: Bear Fire was fueled by dispute in Bear Creek Canyon

Marlon Coy, 54, to appear in court next week

By Michael Todd, mtodd@santacruzsentinel.com, @michaeleetodd on Twitter

Friday, October 27, 2017

LIVE OAK >> The Bear Fire, a $7.1 million expense, was set by a 54-year-old convicted felon from Boulder Creek having a feud, Sheriff Jim Hart said during a press conference Friday.

Marlon Coy’s dispute and urge to scorch Bear Creek Canyon are under investigation.

Coy could have faced murder charges, Hart said.

“This case had the potential to really blow up on us,” Hart said. “Rarely have I seen more reckless actions than those committed by this depraved man.”

The Bear Fire started near 475 Diane’s Way about 10:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and spread to 150 acres overnight. In the next four days, it grew to 391 acres. It was contained Thursday. Five RVs, 17 cars, four buildings, two houses — at 475 Diane’s Way and 820 Bear Creek Canyon — were destroyed.

Three firefighters had serious injuries. One firefighter was still in the hospital Friday, Lt. Todd Liberty said.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Coy, dubbed a transient in previous Santa Cruz court records, wasn’t alone the night the fire started. He and at least three other men lived downhill from 475 Diane’s Way, a private, winding driveway that rises from Bear Creek Canyon.

The steep, dirt path now ends at a pile of scorched drywall and appliances that used to be a family hilltop home. Down the hill where the fire started, a charred weight bench, a hammock, a Chevrolet van and a TV flank remnants of appliances and grills in the scattered wreckage. Some neighbors said they are glad the property no longer is inhabitable.

“The fire is believed to have been set by Coy in response to a dispute with another person who had a connection with the property,” Sgt. Chris Clark said.

Julia Cabibi, 33, who lived in the hilltop house, was dating Coy, Clark said.

Cabibi is not a person of interest, but detectives are trying to contact her to gather information, Clark said.

“So far, she hasn’t made herself available,” Clark said. Cabibi has been active on her Facebook page and Clark said authorities are aware of her posts.

Three men with Coy on Oct. 16 told detectives they saw Coy start the fire downhill from the Diane’s Way address, Liberty said.

“All of those men have been contacted and interviewed at length. All of those men told us that while they were there with Marlon Coy, in the Boulder Creek area below 475 Diane’s Way, they witnessed Coy lighting this fire,” Liberty said.

Multiple witnesses told detectives they had seen Coy and a group of men in the area when the fire started, Liberty said.

“(Coy) quickly was determined to be a person of interest in our investigation,” Liberty said.

Coy denied starting the blaze, Clark said.

FINDING MARLON COY

Coy traveled more than 25 miles, some of it on a bicycle, 24 hours after the Bear Fire flared in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

An evacuated home at the 19000 block of Hidden Springs Lane — more than two miles from Bear Creek Canyon — was looted shortly after the fire started and Coy was the suspected intruder, according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies received information that Coy was in Live Oak and authorities found him on Brommer Street in Santa Cruz on Oct. 17. Coy was wearing Lycra cycling gear and a backpack stuffed with $15,000 in jewelry while riding a mountain bike — all property stolen from the house on Hidden Springs Lane, Liberty said. The painkiller Vicodin also was stolen from the home, according to court records.

CRIMINAL PAST

Coy has been in custody since his arrest in connection with the looting on charges of burglary, grand theft of more than $950 and grand theft during a state of emergency. For those charges, he could face up to six years in jail.

On Oct. 19, in a separate case, Coy pleaded not guilty to four felonies: two charges of assault with a semiautomatic weapon, carjacking and felon in possession of a firearm. In that case, Coy is accused of brandishing a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol to steal a vehicle on Sept. 28, according to court documents.

Friday morning, the sheriff’s office added charges that could warrant more than 20 years in prison.

The fire resulted in three felonies: arson linked with causing bodily harm to firefighters, bodily harm to multiple people and damaging multiple structures, Clark said. Coy is accused of the willful and malicious burning of any structure, forest land or property, according to state law.

Coy was convicted of larceny in 1981 and escaping from corrections in 1989, both in Santa Cruz County, according to court records.

His bail was increased to $800,000 on Friday.

Coy is scheduled to appear Monday in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

RUGGED TERRAIN

Witnesses saw flames rise 100 feet in the redwoods and heard explosions Oct. 16 as the secluded canyon began to glow.

The memory haunts many Bear Creek Canyon residents now working to restore utilities after water lines and storage tanks melted. Other neighbors are in shock that the fire ravaged the canyon’s largest old-growth redwoods that burned for days and had to be cut down.

Todd Zimmerman’s family moved to the 1300 block of Bear Creek Canyon a week before he had to evacuate. For Zimmerman, the fire has had an emotional toll.

“My life has been rattled deeply,” Zimmerman said after the press conference. “I’m not angry. I’m left with putting my life back together. We just moved into this house. It was like a dream for us.”

Although the fire’s threat has subsided, the concerns remain about how it started.

“We can’t get on with life as normal,” Zimmerman said. “Our water system is completely destroyed. Our pipes are burned.”

At 5:30 a.m. Oct. 17, the Zimmermans received a reverse 911 call advising them to evacuate the property. The family was displaced more than a week. The process has been exhausting.

Tom Byrd, who lives just north of the fire’s origin and is president of Bear Creek Canyon Road Association, also attended the press conference. Byrd went to help douse the fire on Oct. 16. As the fire grew, its flames came within “a few feet” from his home and barn, he said.

Byrd laments the loss of some immense conifers that had become a landmark in the canyon.

“We lost all of our old-growth trees. They had to be cut down,” Byrd said.

Some of those large trees were still burning after the flames had subsided on the ground.

“Some of them were 12 feet in diameter. They were right behind our barn,” Byrd said. “The firefighters said they looked like giant Roman candles.”

The Byrds expect a visit from an insurance adjuster on Monday and the family has an appointment with a business that removes smoke odors from homes as well.

“The house and the barn are safe. But we lost a cat,” Byrd said. “We don’t know what happened.”

CONTAINED

Cal Fire mobilized more than 1,000 firefighters from California, Oregon, Utah, Idaho and a group U.S. Forest Service crews to contain the large timber land fire. The ground attack was limited to hand crews who had to use mountaineering tactics to get to the fire’s perimeter. A dozen helicopters and air-attack aircraft doused the flames after more than an hour of work was interrupted amid reports of a drone being flown over the canyon last week, according to Cal Fire. No one has been charged in connection with flying the drone over an emergency area, according to the sheriff’s office.

“This is rugged, mountainous terrain,” Liberty said. “(It is) very difficult to move around in.”

All law-enforcement agencies in Santa Cruz County helped to maintain security in evacuated areas. The fire was an $85,000 expense for the sheriff’s office.