CA Officials Say Sen Hairless Reid is a Fool, an Arsonist Set the Fires
- From: "Patriot Games" <Patriot@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2007 07:22:34 -0400
Officials: Major California Wildfire Declared Arson
Thursday, October 25, 2007
SAN DIEGO - A major wildfire that has scorched thousands of acres and destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California has been declared an arson, according to Orange County law enforcement and FBI officials on Wednesday.
Officials said that there is a $70,000 reward for information leading to an arrest for those responsible for the Santiago fire in the rugged eastern part of the county.
Additionally, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $50,000 reward for information leading toward the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for setting the Santiago Fire.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department said that no search warrants have been served, and there are no suspects in custody. The FBI has become involved in the investigation because part of the fire was on federal land in National Forest.
A thick plume of smoke rising skyward out of a flaming canyon in Orange County Wednesday signaled the first hope of containment for firefighters battling Southern California's ravaging wildfires.
The vertical movement of the smoke showed that the fierce Santa Ana winds that had whipped seemingly small brush fires into a 426,000 acre inferno were starting to ease, FOX News' Claudia Cowan reported Wednesday.
"We've had a good day so far," San Miguel Fire Chief Augie Chio told FOX News. "Morale is very high out there," he said.
Meanwhile, Orange County officials executed a search warrant Wednesday as part of a probe into whether one or more of the fires in that county were the result of arson. Earlier Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol arrested a motorcyclist who was caught setting a brush fire in San Bernadino County, near Lake Arrowhead.
Jodi Miller, a spokesperson for San Bernardino County, told FOX News that the small brush fire set by John Hund, 48, of Hesperia, was an isolated incident and immediately extinguished by witnesses. He is not suspected of starting wildfires burning large swaths of the county.
"It is not related whatsoever to the fires going on in our mountains," Miller said.
Sixteen fires burning for four days across seven counties stretching from Malibu, north of Los Angeles, to the Mexican border, have killed five people, destroyed 1,500 homes, consumed 426,000 acres - or about 665 square miles - and forced almost one million people from their homes - the largest evacuation in the state's history. More than 70,000 homes remained threatened.
New evacuations were ordered Wednesday in San Diego County, the hardest hit area, where officials said five separate fires have caused more than $1 billion in property damage. The largest of the San Diego County fires has consumed 196,420 acres - about 300 square miles - from Witch Creek to Rancho Santa Fe, destroying 650 homes.
"Clearly, this is going to be a $1 billion or more disaster," Ron Lane, San Diego County's director of emergency services, told reporters during a news conference.
Cool ocean breezes forecast to arrive Wednesday afternoon brought relief to some areas, but in Lyons Valley threatened to blow the fire in new directions. Firefighters there told FOX News' Geraldo Rivera they feared the westward-blowing ocean winds would cause the fire to U-turn and hit homes missed by the fires' original path.
President Bush declared the area a major disaster on Wednesday and ordered federal aid to supplement the state and local recovery efforts in the area.
"Americans all across this land care deeply about them," the president said after a Cabinet meeting convened to coordinate federal relief efforts. "We're concerned about their safety. We're concerned about their property."
Some of the evacuees, whose homes were located closer to the coast, were being allowed back into their neighborhoods. Interstate 5, which had been closed between Los Angeles and San Diego, was reopened to southbound traffic.
An unmanned NASA aircraft outfitted with high-tech imaging equipment took off Wednesday from Edwards Air Force Base on Wednesday for a 10-hour flight to help firefighters locate hot spots. Pilots at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center were remotely controlling the aircraft, outfitted with a thermal-infrared imaging system capable of seeing through thick smoke.
Crews also were anticipating additional firefighters and equipment from other states, mostly throughout the West. Frustration over the firefighting effort began to emerge Tuesday when a fire official said not enough had been done to protect homes.
Orange County Fire Chief Chip Prather told reporters that firefighters' lives were threatened because too few crews were on the ground. He said a quick deployment of aircraft could have corralled a massive blaze near Irvine.
"It is an absolute fact: Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire," he said.
Twenty-one firefighters and at least 24 others have been injured. One person was killed by the flames, and the San Diego medical examiner's officer listed five other deaths as connected to the blazes.
The state's top firefighter said Prather misstated the availability of firefighters and equipment. Eight of the state's nine water-dumping helicopters were in Southern California by Sunday, when the first fires began, along with 13 air tankers, said Ruben Grijalva, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Grijalva said the fires would have overwhelmed most efforts to fight them.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dismissed the criticism when questioned by an ABC News reporter, and praised the rapid deployment of fire crews and equipment across a region from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border.
"Anyone that is complaining about the planes just wants to complain because there's a bunch of nonsense," he said. "The fact is that we could have all the planes in the world here - we have 90 aircraft here and six that we got especially from the federal government - and they can't fly because of the wind situation."
The fires have engulfed Southern California's oceanfront wealth belt, laying waste to multi-million dollar homes. But at Qualcomm Stadium, where thousands of evacuees have taken refuge, the Schlotte family of Ramona, Calif., spoke to FOX News of a different reality.
The family did not own property, but were renters with no insurance to cover their losses. Ben Schlotte, a house painter, lost his work truck and equipment in the fire, and said that with so many homes destroyed in the area, his painting business was essentially finished.
"All of our memories are gone," his wife, Billy, said.
Thousands of people have packed emergency shelters, where many had an agonizing wait to find out whether their homes had survived.
"I'm ready to go, but at the same time, I don't want to go up there and be surprised," said Mary Busch, 41, who did not know whether her home in Ramona was still standing. She has lived at the evacuation center at Qualcomm Stadium since Monday, sleeping in her SUV with her 11 and 8-year-old sons.
Others were eager to return to houses they were confident had survived.
"I called my home and my answering machine still works, so that's how I know we're OK," said Rancho Bernardo resident Fuli Du, who packed his belongings Wednesday preparing to leave Qualcomm.
He spent his 41st birthday Tuesday at the stadium, where he has been living with his wife and two young sons.
Wednesday's evacutions ordered residents of the San Diego County communities of Fallbrook and Julian, an area devastated by a 2003 wildfire, out of their homes. Officials also were evacuating De Luz, an unincorporated community east of Camp Pendleton that was being threatened by a wildfire on the Marine base.
However, residents were allowed to return to some areas of San Diego County including Carlsbad, Chula Vista, Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach.
"There are some hot spots and issues there, but we wouldn't be letting people go back if it weren't safe," county spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said.
The city of San Diego was assessing whether to allow people to return to their homes in Rancho Bernardo, one of the hardest-hit areas, Mayor Jerry Sanders said.
So far, the fires have inflicted the worst damage in San Diego County, where five blazes continued to burn. Other hard-hit areas included San Bernardino County, where hundreds of homes burned in the mountain resort communities near Lake Arrowhead.
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