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Man arrested on arson charge after running from Auburn brush fire

Vacaville suspect in custody after foot chase, physical altercation
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Vacaville man was arrested Wednesday on an arson charge after a brush fire broke out in South Auburn and he was spotted by a resident running away from the blaze.

The fire started on the 1500-block Shirland Tract Road property shortly after 11 a.m. Placer County Sheriff’s Office personnel were able to locate and arrest the man several minutes later after a ground and air search.

Arrested was Luke Carter, 24, of Vacaville. He was also charged with battery on a peace officer, in connection with a struggle that ended with the suspect being tasered.

Jody Mohammed, a neighbor to the property that burned, said he saw the fleeing man before he saw the fire.

“I was doing work in my backyard and the kid jumped the fence and ran across my field,” Mohammed said. “I heard a crackling noise right after that and saw smoke rising.”

The man continued to run south after carefully climbing over a barbed wire fence, Mohammed said. Mohammed grabbed a garden hose and joined other neighbors in trying to control the fire while his wife called 9-1-1.

Firefighters arrived at the property, near Crockett Road, to extinguish the fire by about 11:45 a.m.

Property owner Kathleen Flindt-Walsh said she was thankful for the quick response and the arrest of a possible arson suspect.

“Flames were up to the top of the pine trees and one of my palms caught fire, but they saved them all,” Flindt-Walsh said.

Placer County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Dena Erwin said that the investigation by Cal Fire and sheriff’s investigators was considered an arson probe but that the man was initially arrested on a resisting arrest charge. Evidence found in the field is linking Carter to the fire, she said.

Sgt. Brian Silva said that the arrested man was not known to neighbors.

Silva said Lt. Darrell Steinhauer chased Carter onfoot after sighting him farther south from the fire. The Sheriff’s Office Falcon 30 was called in from a training exercise nearby on the American River. Sgt. Ed Clark was able to scramble from the helicopter after it landed and subdue Carter,  aided by Steinhauer.

The Flindt-Walsh property is located just south of the Auburn city limits in the unincorporated area of Placer County.

Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said that firefighters were aided by Flindt-Walsh’s recent work to trim branches and cut grass on her 5-acre property. The fire was limited to about half an acre. No structures caught fire.

“Her home was saved by the work she did to create defensible space,” Berlant said. “It can be used as a reminder to other property owners how critical having defensible space is.”