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Arson fire is 'most unacceptable' crime, sheriff says

September 3, 2009 |  6:54 pm

A brush fire that killed two firefighters and has burned more than 147,000 acres was an “act of arson,” authorities said Thursday as they launched a homicide investigation.

Officials said they concluded that the largest brush fire in the history of Los Angeles County was deliberately set after investigators examined forensic evidence from the point of origin off Angeles Crest Highway north of La Cañada Flintridge.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said investigators don’t want to release any details about the cause because they fear it could hurt their ability to find and prosecute the arsonist. 

The sheriff stressed that the homicide probe is still wide open. The Station fire could have been set deliberately by someone wanting to cause damage or it could have been sparked accidentally by someone acting negligently, Baca said.

In either case, the department could pursue homicide charges, he said.

“If an arsonist did this, everyone should be angry about it," Baca told The Times. "This is one of the most unacceptable crimes.”

On Wednesday, investigators converged on a turnoff near Mile Marker 29 of Angeles Crest Highway near a scorched oak tree, using wire mesh sifters to search through the ash.

Yellow tape cordoned off the area and authorities blocked the highway, turning away even Caltrans workers and earthmovers.

Sources close to the investigation told The Times that the probe has been complicated somewhat by the fact the fire burned over the point of origin twice, making evidence collection more difficult than normal.

--Ari B. Bloomekatz, Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Cara Mia Di Massa