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Detectives want to talk to first witnesses to Station fire

September 11, 2009 | 12:29 pm

Detectives hunting for the arsonist responsible for the deadly Station fire are looking for several potential witnesses who may have been the first to see the blaze, which erupted Aug. 26 along the Angeles Crest Highway above La Canada Flintridge.

One person may have knocked on the door of the Angeles Crest Highway Forest Station, just south of the turnout where fire was reported around 3:30 p.m., according to L.A. County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Detectives are also looking for several people who dialed 911 to report the fire, Whitmore said.

Lt. Liam Gallagher said investigators have received more than 50 tips related to the blaze, which destroyed dozens of homes and killed two firefighters.

“We will check out every piece of information very carefully,” he said.

The number of detectives working the case has now been increased to 10. With the arsonist responsible for the wildfire still at large, investigators have already appealed for anyone near the point of origin, on Angeles Crest Highway at mile marker 29.

The probe became a homicide investigation when two firefighters died a few days after the fire started when their truck fell 800 feet into a ravine as they tried to find an escape route from the flames for fellow firefighters.

Los Angeles County and the state have offered a $150,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist. Investigators believe a substance found near the Station fire’s point of origin helped spread the blaze, and it has emerged as a key piece of evidence in the arson probe, a source told The Times.

The source would not identify the substance but said it was found in the brush off Angeles Crest Highway, walking distance from the turnoff that is at the center of the arson probe. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the substance was taken to a lab for testing to further verify arson investigators' findings.

The recovered material is not a device, according to the source. “There was material that didn't belong there. It was clear evidence that the fire was intentionally set,” the source said.

Anyone with information is asked to call sheriff’s homicide detectives at (323) 890-5500.

-- Richard Winton

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