Fire investigators testify during first day of preliminary hearing for Pier Fire suspects

Fire investigators testify during first day of preliminary hearing for Pier Fire suspects

The massive Pier Fire in Tulare County forced hundreds of mountain residents to evacuate their homes, hurt some firefighters, and caused at least $7 million in damage before it was contained three months later.

Now, nearly two and a half years later, court proceedings for the four Visalians accused of starting the blaze are heating up.

On Friday, former U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Brian Adams testified that hours after the fire started, he examined a burned-out Dodge Challenger on the side of an embankment along Highway 190.

He found a license plate at the scene, and a few days later, he spoke to the manager of National Car Rental at the Sacramento Airport, who confirmed they had two cars stolen from their secured lot-the Challenger, and a Chevy Camaro.

Thinking it had to have been an inside job, Adams asked the manager if he could think of any employees who could have stolen the cars.

"He said several weeks prior that an employee was caught on camera stealing the front Chevy emblem off the front of a 2017 Chevy Camaro," Adams said. "He told me the employee's name was Isiac Renteria."

Prosecutors say Isiac Renteria, his cousin Richard Renteria, along with Osvaldo Esparza-Guerrero and Breane Ojeda, stole the cars from Sacramento and using gas as an accelerant, set the Challenger on fire in a Tule River Canyon turnout.

"I determined that the fire was caused by the vehicle being ignited in the turnout, rolling over the embankment, and starting the brush and grass on fire," Adams said.

"Burn patterns didn't support a fire starting in the center console," Tulare County Fire Investigator Joe Rosa said. "And there was no evidence to the wiring or any of the mechanical parts within the center console that would support a combustion."

Rosa examined the burned-out vehicle on August 30th.

He said he found rusting on the passenger side of the car, which he explained is commonly found when metal is exposed to high heat for long periods.

He concluded that the fire moved from the passenger side of the vehicle to the driver's side.

"The only thing that I was able to determine was that based on the elimination of all possible ignition factors is that it was a human-caused fire within the front passenger side compartment."

Rosa said he was not able to determine if there was an accelerant used, because it would have already evaporated by the time he examined the car.

When asked by a defense attorney, Rosa said he didn't have the capability to test for accelerants, but it can be done by using a lab.
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