An emergency page-out came in from the Howard Forest Dispatch center for an escaped controlled burn Thursday night at about 9:40.
Though fire conditions are quite low this time of year three engines rolled to take care of the situation. Philo's Roy Laird in 7477 led the pack. The call was reported as seven miles off of Highway 128 up on Clow Ridge Road and there was to be one locked gate to negotiate. Clow Ridge is a long, steep, narrow road and response time was going to take a while.
Part way up the ridge Roy got a radio call from Chief Colin Wilson to "Hold up" a while and listen to Colin's report. In my words this is what Colin said: There had been a neighbor dispute, the fire had been aggravatedly started (arson) and a tree had been fallen across the road to hinder fire department response.
Enter cautiously and be aware, was the message Colin wanted Roy to hear. Initially Colin called for SO (Sheriff's Office) presence but at some point the reporting party said to hold them back and he would call in with a report in the morning. Roy proceeded up the grade with a back-up engine and four firefighters close behind. The third engine staged at Clow Ridge and Nash Mill Roads. The tree was encountered and cleared and the fire engaged without hostile challenge. The fire was contained to a large pile of fir firewood. With a lot of blister-raising hard work the burning pile was raked apart and put dead out. Another great job done well by local volunteers. But the story certainly doesn't end there, nor did it start with the reported "escaped controlled burn."
All day Thursday Monty Hulbert had been drunkenly harassing and accusing Clow Ridge resident Paul Meilleur of stealing "a bucket" of marijuana. Meilleur was pushed and slapped and at one time punched in the mouth resulting in a broken tooth. It seems this dickering and fighting went on most of the day. Meilleur explained that Monty was a friend of his. At some point Monty fell a tree that hit a cabin and did some damage but Meilleur managed to get Monty away for a while. Meilleur's later report to the Sheriff said he did feel his life had been threatened. Then the fire was started, apparently, admittedly by Monty, in retaliation for the purported stolen "bucket" of pot. Monty either split or was again taken away by Meilleur. The firefighters showed up, did their thing, and left with no appearance by Monty.
Sometime after midnight a neighboring property owner, Bob Pritchard, returned home from a visit to the city and upon hearing noises in his house discovered Monty there. Pritchard was not aware of the fire or the previous day's events. Pritchard was now accused of stealing Monty's dope and punched around a bit. For those that don't know him, Monty Hulbert is a large and powerful mountain man, usually peaceful, but still with an independent nature and the strength to do some serious damage. Not a known methamphetamine user, Monty has at times been driven wild by the demon drink. Pritchard stated later that he too had been afraid for his life.
Friday morning Deputy Keith Squires was able to locate the 44-year old Monty Hulbert and arrest him for arson, criminal threats and battery. His bail was set at $20,000. In the Sheriff's report turned over to the DA it is noted that in the wood pile set on fire by Monty was a can containing $18,000 in cash, stashed there for safe keeping by Bob Pritchard. It wasn't clear if the money burned up or not, nor if Monty even knew about it when he started the fire.