Authorities question 2 in California arson investigation; wildfire nears containment

Monday, October 30th 2006, 6:20 am
By: News On 6

CABAZON, Calif. (AP) Authorities investigating an arson wildfire that killed four firefighters interviewed two people Monday as crews remained confident that the blaze would soon be fully corralled.

Sheriff's deputies took two men and three bags of material from a house in Cabazon around 1 p.m., said neighbor Robert Dunham, 70, who lives three doors down from the residence a quarter-mile from where the fire started.

Authorities released little information about the two people interviewed. No arrests had been made, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Earl Quinata.

``It was a couple of people getting interviewed. We're trying to work through the leads that we have, and going through the process,'' said Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle said in a telephone interview.

Authorities said the fire was deliberately set at the base of a slope in Cabazon, west of Palm Springs. Cabazon residents have said they saw two young men leaving the area where the fire began.

Since it started around 1 a.m. Thursday, the fire has burned 63 square miles, or 40,200 acres, as fierce Santa Ana winds swept through the region and fanned the flames. It was about 90 percent contained, and authorities expected full containment Monday night. It has destroyed 54 structures, 34 homes and 20 other buildings.

Last week, a shift in the winds turned deadly when a gust pushed a wall of flames around five firefighters trying to protect a house. Four of the firefighters died, while another was hospitalized with serious burns over most of his body.

Pablo Cerda, 23, underwent surgery Friday to remove damaged skin. He had been in critical condition, but his condition was not immediately available Monday.

About 50 of Cerda's relatives gathered at the hospital, praying for him.

``They want everyone to know that Pablo's dream was to help people, and on Thursday morning, that's just what he was doing, protecting and serving,'' said Eddie Cortez, a family spokesman.

Vigils were held at several Southern California churches and fire stations for Cerda and to pray for the families of the fallen firefighters. Killed were Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; Jason McKay, 27, of Phelan; Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto.