Photos, Tips Key to Solving San Diego Fire Investigation

One man's photo could be the piece that helps solve the jigsaw puzzle as to who or what started the devastating fire

San Marcos resident Carlos Royal snapped a picture while preparing to evacuate his home last Wednesday due to the growing fire that would later be named the Cocos Fire.

His photo – captured as he and his wife were driving south on Twin Oaks Valley Road – could be the piece that helps solve the jigsaw puzzle as to who or what started the devastating fire.

Royal said the image captured the first southward fire and smoke he saw all day and suspects it is the origin of the Cocos Fire.

“I just noticed the puff of smoke. The fire started shooting up next to that house, and I just grabbed my camera and took a picture,” he told NBC 7.

He posted it first to a blog and then was advised by friends to send it on to officials. So Royal sent it to NBC 7 Tuesday morning and asked us to forward it to investigators.

We traced the fire to a neighborhood near Washingtonia and Cocos where we found resident Jesus Garcia and asked him what he recalls from that day.

“Three fires all within 30 minutes of each other,” said resident Jesus Garcia “There’d be no reason for it other than embers or arson.”

His best guess?

As an engineer, he needs data. “Possibilities are endless, and speculation is not my style,” Garcia said.

When NBC 7 showed the image to Cal Fire spokesperson Kendal Bortisser, he sent the picture on to the investigation team that has been working around the clock to determine the cause of a series of fires that damaged or destroyed 47 homes and scorched more than 22,000 acres.

Bortisser didn’t have an estimate on the number of tips and photos they’ve received and didn’t have a time frame for a result from the investigation.

“This isn’t something they just throw together; they try and come up with a cause as quickly as they can,” he explained. “We owe it to those folks to do a thorough, in-depth fire investigation.

“Fires like this can sometimes take longer than others.”

All information – no matter how meaningless it may seem – could lead investigators to answer the question on San Diego’s mind, the Cal Fire official said.

“San Diegans want to know what or who started the multiple fires that burned last week as much as firefighters do and are helping where and how they can,” Bortisser said.

“We need to hear all of those tips, all of those ideas, all of those photos.”

Royal said he didn’t even consider his photo could help investigators at first.

“I didn’t think about that at the time I took the picture. I was just capturing the moment,” Royal said. 

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