In a shocking turn of events, Mariposa County residents have been rocked by the revelation that the disastrous Oak Fire of Summer 2022, which tore through nearly 20,000 acres near Yosemite National Park, was allegedly set intentionally. The blaze, which reached its peak during late July and early August, claimed 127 homes and 66 additional structures. The accused, 71-year-old Edward Frederick Wackerman, a local resident, was apprehended on June 16, 2024.
The Oak Fire, named for its ferocity and scale, was infamous for the widespread destruction it wreaked. The inferno’s wrath was chronicled by writer and rock climber Chris Van Leuven in a poignant personal essay in Outside magazine. Van Leuven, whose house was reduced to ashes, managed a narrow escape with his beloved Boxer dog, Fenster. Recounting the ordeal, he lamented, “Now, everything is gone.”
The arrest, announced in a tersely conducted press conference by District Attorney Walter Wall, marks a chilling new development. Wall conveyed confidence in the investigation and asserted that Wackerman was accountable for the catastrophe. Although no fatalities were reported, several people suffered injuries due to the fire.
The Oak Fire was initially believed to have been catalyzed by the severe dry conditions prevailing at that time. California had recorded its driest start to the year in history, and temperatures soared to unprecedented levels, with mercury tipping at 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, after a meticulous 11-month investigation involving numerous agencies such as the FBI, National Park Service, and California Fire Department, Wackerman emerged as the prime suspect. The details regarding the manner and motivation behind the arson remain undisclosed. In a brief exchange during the press conference, County Sheriff Jeremy Briese confirmed that Wackerman had a background in firefighting but withheld further information.
Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, had mobilized over 2,000 firefighters to battle the blaze, which was ultimately contained on August 5, 2022. The gravity of the disaster prompted California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for Mariposa County, facilitating the allocation of federal aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
This disquieting development has been thrust into the national spotlight, with media outlets vigorously covering the story. The New York Post, in a particularly striking headline, juxtaposed Wackerman’s alleged arson with initial attributions of the fire to climate change.
Wackerman is currently in custody at Mariposa County jail and is expected to be arraigned later this week. As the community grapples with the revelation, the prosecution prepares to present its case in what promises to be a closely watched trial.