Dog Rescue at Heart of Deadly Esperanza Blaze?

Raymond Lee Oyler, who stands accused of setting the wildfire that killed five firefighters in October, is alleged by a relative to have said he wanted to set a mountain on fire as a diversion to break his family's pit bull out of a nearby pound, it was reported Thursday.

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Investigative reports show that the claim was made by Oyler's cousin, Jill Frame, when she spoke to investigators probing the Esperanza fire, which burned 40,000 acres west of Palm Springs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The dog impounded by animal control officers was one of two Oyler family pit bulls that attacked a woman and her dog in early October, The Times reported.

The statement by Frame is likely to come up when Oyler, a 36-year-old car mechanic, appears Monday in a Riverside courtroom for a preliminary hearing intended to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with his first-degree murder trial.

Oyler's attorney, Mark R. McDonald, told The Times that Frame was "without any credibility," in part because her side of the family has had a feud with Oyler and his closest relatives.

The Riverside County district attorney's office has charged Oyler with the deaths of the five federal firefighters killed Oct. 26. He is also charged with arson in 10 other fires set between June and October in the Banning area.

Tom Freeman, executive officer of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, told The Times he could not comment on investigative reports or evidence collected in the case. Officials from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also participated in the investigation.