From Times Online
October 25, 2007
Arsonists blamed for starting California wildfires
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
A helicopter takes water from the swimming pool of the Chabad Kyrias Campus in Running Springs, California
Jack Malvern and agencies
At least two of the wildfires that have devastated southern California may have been deliberately set by arsonists, police believe.
Officers identified two suspects yesterday, shooting and killing one of them after a high-speed chase into the foothills near San Bernardino, southern California.
The 27-year-old man was spotted behaving suspiciously in the scrub behind California State University, San Bernardino before he fled from police and jumped into a car. He tried to ram police vehicles twice, prompting officers to open fire. He was killed in the second volley of shots.
A second man was arrested in Hesperia, also in San Bernardino county, on suspicion of setting a brush fire.
In Orange County, police say they are certain that a fire that destroyed nine homes was man-made. Jim Amormino, of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, said: "It's definitely arson and it's been deemed a crime scene." Investigators from the FBI were called in to inspect three different ignition points.
Another blaze, in Temecula, is also being treated as suspicious, according to the Los Angeles Times. At least three of the 12 fires have been blamed on sparks from fallen power lines.
President Bush, who is scheduled to tour the fire-ravaged area today, formally declared California a disaster zone yesterday. The measure expands on his announcement of federal aid on Tuesday, and paves the way for more federal funds to boost the relief effort.
“Most importantly, I want the people in southern California to know that Americans all across this land care deeply about them,” the President said.
Easing winds offered Californian fire fighters some respite today as they battled to contain blazes that have killed at least three and caused more than a billion dollars in property damage.
Some 1,700 buildings have been destroyed in the 18 wildfires that have erupted since Sunday, forcing about half a million people to flee their homes and scorching 172,000 hectares (426,000 acres) of tinder-dry countryside stretching from celebrity-studded Malibu to beyond the Mexican border.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Governor, said that three people were killed and 40 injured in the fires, the worst to hit California since devastating 2003 blazes which claimed 22 lives.
The fast-spreading infernos were fanned by powerful desert winds gusting across the region towards the ocean. The winds began to die down on Wednesday, and increased coastal humidity early Thursday enabled fire fighters to make great strides in containing three of the five biggest blazes.