1. #1
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    Post CA Wildfires-Arsonists

    SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) - There have been more than 500
    tips, dozens of cars stopped, a handful of men questioned, at least
    one confession and endless rumors, but authorities say they still
    haven't arrested anyone who sparked one of the Southern California
    There could be lots of suspects. Arson is blamed for at least
    three of the seven wildfires still burning in the region.
    On Thursday, the San Bernardino County sheriff's office fleshed
    out a description of a suspect - a thin, blond man in his 20s who
    witnesses say stepped out of a gray van last Saturday, dropped
    something into the brush causing a fire, then climbed back into the
    van before it sped away. The wildfire has grown to about 50,000
    acres, killing four people and destroying 850 homes.
    A police sketch of the van's driver, a dark-haired man in his
    20s, has appeared on newspaper front pages and television news
    broadcasts all week.
    "We've got a lot of good leads. We're working hard on this,"
    said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.
    Dozens of federal, state and local arson detectives have been
    working around the clock, talking to witnesses at evacuation
    centers, studying burn patterns where the fires began, and calling
    for public help.
    Forest Service agent Jerry Moore said a man had confessed to
    starting a Ventura County fire that burned three homes and 68,000
    acres, but the case remained under investigation.
    "Anybody can come in and say 'I did it,"' Moore said.
    San Diego County authorities, meanwhile, said they are positive
    a wildfire that has so far killed 14 people, including a
    firefighter, and burned nearly 1,500 homes was sparked by a lost
    deer hunter who set a signal blaze.
    He was given a misdemeanor citation. Arsonists could face
    federal or state charges, including aggravated arson, which in
    California carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. They
    could even face murder charges.
    Investigators had no motive for the arsons. In the past, people
    have set "vanity fires" so they can point them out and appear to
    be heroes, said Daniel Frias, a fire investigator with the state
    Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Others have tried to
    torch houses out of revenge.
    Various agencies are receiving as many as 100 tips a day from as
    far north as San Francisco, but finding wildfire arsonists can be
    difficult, Frias said, because they can set time-delay devices or
    wait until the coast is clear.
    "Usually when we get a good lead, it's because a witness just
    happened to be driving by," he said.
    Associated Press Writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this
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    DENVER (AP) - Thousands of southern Californians helplessly
    watch their homes and hillsides devoured by flames and ask, "Who
    could do this?"
    The answer: Mostly careless hunters, campers, smokers,
    trashburners. But also angry, bored kids. Drunks. Ghostly
    psychopaths who vanish into the smoke. Too often - and most
    disturbingly - firefighters themselves.
    If history is any guide, it may take years to arrest those
    believed largely responsible for a week of fire that has killed at
    least 20 people and destroyed 2,300 homes in what could be
    California's most expensive catastrophe. And they may never be
    caught. The typical rate of solving wildfire arsons is less than 10
    percent a year.
    Authorities in California are circulating a composite sketch of
    a young, long-haired, white man driving a light-colored van. He is
    suspected of igniting at least one, if not more, of the 13 blazes
    that have burned in a hellish corridor extending from the mountains
    north of Los Angeles to San Diego and across the Mexican border.
    Wildfire arson is a surprisingly common crime despite harsh
    penalties. In California, it can carry a sentence of 10
    years-to-life, plus murder charges when innocents die.
    But it's one of the most difficult crimes to solve. That's
    because investigators are confronted with an incomplete puzzle of
    fragile clues like ashes, matchheads and tire tracks, which can be
    obliterated in a single thunderstorm.
    Witnesses are uncommon and their recollections hazy. In the
    West, where overgrown forests extend for 100 miles (160 kilometers)
    and mountains soar into the horizon, it's too easy to melt into the
    rugged background.
    "The arsonist could drive to an adjacent ridge to watch his
    handiwork and you would never know," said Paul Steensland, a
    senior special agent with the U.S. Forest Service. "If they are
    serial arsonists, we will catch them. But it may take a number of
    The nation has averaged 103,112 wildfires annually over the past
    10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in
    Boise, Idaho.
    There are no firm numbers for wildfire arson incidents, arrests
    and convictions. Even a clear distinction between accidental fires
    and malicious ones is difficult to distinguish in the
    record-keeping. Experts say there just are too many jurisdictions
    and agencies to coordinate, from the Forest Service to county
    volunteer brigades, law enforcement and even the military.
    But the problem is obvious. Investigators agree that human
    activities, not lightning, are responsible for 9 out of 10
    wildfires. That breakdown remains constant even in drought years
    like 2000 and 2002.
    The easy part, investigators say, is finding the fires' physical
    origins. Unlike structure fires, which tend to burn hottest where
    they start, wildfires usually begin cooler.
    They rapidly spread, propelled in a V-shape by the wind, terrain
    and fuel. Investigators quickly work backward, narrowing the path
    by reading scorch marks on trees and the direction in which intense
    heat sucks the moisture from unburned leaves and needles,
    "freezing" them like signposts.
    About three-quarters of the human-caused fires result from
    carelessness, fire investigators say. Hunters and hikers leave
    smoldering campfires, or grass brushes against the hot muffler of
    an off-road vehicle. When the ignition point of dry forest litter
    is only 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 Celsius), it takes just a few
    seconds and a puff of wind for a spark to grow into a rising wall
    of flame.
    Investigators look into every reported fire, but how to
    prosecute the accidents is left up to local officials.
    San Diego authorities say one of this week's fires that killed
    12 and burned more than 1,000 homes was sparked by a lost deer
    hunter who set a signal blaze in the Cleveland National Forest. He
    was cited with a misdemeanor.
    But the number of accidental fires still leaves more than 23,000
    blazes a year to the firebugs.
    Sometimes the cops get lucky, like last year when they literally
    bumped into Timothy Nicholas Terry of Eugene, Oregon, down the
    trail from a smoke plume near the McKenzie River. Terry was charged
    with setting three fires in September 2002. But his vehicle had
    been reported near previous blazes, and authorities are
    re-examining scores of fires on both sides of Interstate 5 over the
    past five years.
    Another statistical twist: Arsonists typically get charged only
    for their last fire - the one that got them caught. But one arrest
    can effectively solve hundreds of incidents spanning several years,
    even if the statistics never reflect it.
    "In San Luis Obispo, I arrested one guy who we knew set 600
    fires," said Douglas Allen, who chairs the wildfire committee for
    the International Association of Arson Investigators. Ironically,
    wildfire forced Allen to evacuate his home near Lake Arrowhead,
    California, on Wednesday.
    "These people continue to set fires until they are caught,"
    Allen said. "But one arrest can make a big difference."
    The psychologists' profile of a typical woods arsonist is a
    person marinating in bottled-up anger and intimidation. Except,
    that is, for the intoxicating moment when the match strikes and the
    flame flickers. Then he exults as the sirens wail and people flee,
    Fairfax, Virginia, forensic psychologist Neil S. Hibler says
    that's when the firebug feels, "I did that. Man, I'm special."
    "This is a coward's game," Hibler said.
    Some are Beavis-style delinquents, like the seven Halloween
    pranksters who lit the 2001 Red Bird fire in the Daniel Boone
    National Forest in Kentucky. It left a firefighter in a wheelchair,
    paralyzed by a falling black locust tree.
    Disgruntled workers and ecoterrorists may seek revenge against
    logging companies; for example, $50 million in timber in Louisiana
    was torched in 400 separate blazes in 2000.
    Yet others see profit, not destruction, in flames. In the 1990s,
    investigators probed many blazes around depressed logging towns in
    the Pacific Northwest, but there were no convictions.
    In hard times, arson-as-public-works is tantalizing: The
    government spends more than $1 million a day supporting fire crews,
    contracting locally for everything from sandwiches to bulldozers.
    And when the flames are extinguished, salvage logging of charred
    timber takes years, generating hundreds of jobs and payrolls
    topping $40 million.
    But for investigators and homeowners alike, the most perverse
    category of wildfire arsonist are the firefighters themselves.
    The most celebrated case was John Orr, an arson sleuth for the
    Glendale, California, fire department serving a life sentence for
    setting a 1984 hardware store blaze that killed four people.
    He also was convicted of conducting a remarkable arson campaign
    that damaged 67 homes along with open land. He was arrested after
    penning a novel, "Points of Origin," depicting a firefighter who
    torched a hardware store and other businesses for sexual pleasure.
    In 2002, firefighters were responsible for two of the nation's
    largest wildfires.
    In Arizona, Leonard Gregg, a contract firefighter, was sent to a
    prison hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after being charged
    with setting the Rodeo fire in the state's rugged eastern
    mountains. At its worst, the inferno spread 50 miles (80
    kilometers) wide; one local fire chief described it as "walking
    down the aisles of hell." Containing it cost public agencies $43
    Prosecutors said Gregg confessed to setting fire to dry grass in
    hopes of earning $8 an hour to extinguish the flames for the Bureau
    of Indian Affairs.
    In Colorado, former Forest Service seasonal worker Terry Barton
    pleaded guilty to starting the Hayman Fire, which consumed 137,000
    acres (54,800 hectares) southwest of Denver and destroyed 133
    She claimed to be distraught over her crumbling marriage and
    said she burned letters from her estranged husband in a campground
    fire ring. Investigators still don't buy her story.
    "I never found paper ash," Steensland said. "I did find three
    matches stuck head-first into the ground, spaced a half-inch (a
    centimeter) apart."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

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