Man faces arson counts in connection with Calif. wildfires; 5th firefighter dies
Wednesday, November 1st 2006, 6:16 am
News On 6
BANNING, Calif. (AP) _ A man arrested on charges of setting two wildfires this summer is also considered a person of interest in the Southern California mountain fire that claimed the lives of five firefighters.
Raymond Lee Oyler, 36, was arrested Tuesday at his mother's home in Banning on two counts of arson linked to June wildfires in the Banning Pass area and two counts of possessing fire-making materials, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
Oyler, of Beaumont, was not named as a suspect in the deadly wildfire that started last week and roared across more than 60 square miles, but he is considered a person of interest. Bail was set at $25,000 and a court hearing was scheduled for Thursday.
Investigators interviewed Oyler on Friday and searched his home Monday, the sheriff's department said. No other details were released and it was not known if he had a lawyer.
At the home of Oyler's mother, a woman slammed the door Wednesday and screamed: ``We don't want to talk to nobody, comprende?''
Four U.S. Forest Service firefighters died last week as they tried to protect a house from wind-driven flames in the San Jacinto Mountains, 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
A fifth firefighter, Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley, died Tuesday evening at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. He had suffered burns over 90 percent of his body when the flames swept over the crew.
``He was a great fighter,'' Dr. Dev Gnanadev said outside the hospital. ``In the end we did talk to the family and gave them an option of taking him to the operating room again for further surgeries, knowing his prognosis is very, very poor, and they decided to let Pablo go.''
Several Forest Service firefighters left the hospital with tears in their eyes.
``Today more sadness is added to our almost unbearable grief,'' said Jeanne Wade Evans, the San Bernardino National Forest supervisor.
The fifth death made it the greatest loss of firefighters in a single incident while battling a wildfire since 14 were killed in July 1994 near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to the National Interagency Fire Center statistics.
Cerda was in only his second year of fighting fires for the Forest Service. He had planned to begin studying to become a paramedic.
The other victims were the engine captain, Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jason McKay, 27, of Apple Valley; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.
Authorities said the fire was set at the base of a slope in Cabazon, west of Palm Springs, as fierce Santa Ana wind hit Southern California. Residents said they saw two young men leaving the area where the fire began.
On Monday, two people were brought in for questioning and released. A reward for information leading to an arrest has reached $550,000.
The blaze charred 40,200 acres _ or more than 60 square miles _ of forest and brush and destroyed 34 homes before being fully contained Monday. Firefighting costs have reached $9.9 million, the California Department of Forestry said.