At a 4 p.m. press conference, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced that as a result of an anonymous tip, investigators were able to identify 10 young adults as those responsible for the cause of the Tea Fire. Brown described them as between the ages of 18 and 22, area residents, and a mixture of males and females. Brown also described them as all coming from one school and being cooperative with investigators.
The breakthrough resulting in their identification came as a result of the appeal made to the community to provide information regarding the fire. More than 40 tips were received, including one anonymous tip relating to a party that had occurred at an area on the east end of the ridgeline overlooking Cold Spring Canyon known as the Tea Garden.
The cause of the fire appears to be the result of carelessness rather than criminal intent. Sometime Wednesday evening, November 12, the 10 apparently headed up to the Tea Garden to party and this including starting what the Sheriff called a bonfire. When they left sometime between 3 and 5 a.m. Thursday morning, those who attended the gathering told investigators that they thought they had put out the fire, which was built near a wall in the Tea Garden area. Rather than dying out, coals from the fire continued to smolder throughout the day and ignited when the strong sundowner winds picked up Thursday evening.
Brown declined to identify those involved and added that the investigation is still ongoing. At this time reports are being prepared and submitted to the District Attorney’s Office which will decide if any criminal charges will be filed. Anyone with additional information regarding the start of the Tea Fire is encouraged to call the Tip Line at (805) 681-4171.