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Arson probe underway as firefighters honor fallen colleagues [Updated]

September 4, 2009 |  6:36 am

More than 1,000 firefighters gathered at the Station fire command post at Hansen Dam this morning for a memorial service for two firefighters killed battling a blaze that officials have classified as arson.

Firefighters from around the country were attending the private memorial. A public memorial for the fallen firefighters will occur Sept. 12 at Dodger Stadium.

On Sunday near Mt. Gleason, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, and Firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 34, were supervising inmates trained in wilderness protection.
Hall, who was married and the father of two grown sons, and Quinones, married and expecting his first child in the next few weeks, died when their truck went over the side of a dirt road and fell 800 feet into a canyon.

[Updated 4 p.m.: Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said today that he would urge county officials to offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for setting the fire.] 

Lower temperatures and higher humidity are expected to help firefighters battling the 148,000-acre Station fire, which is now 42% contained. In Riverside County, firefighters were battling a small brush fire off Ortega Highway.

Officials said they determined that the Station fire, the largest brush fire in the history of Los Angeles County, was the result of arson after investigators examined forensic evidence from scorched landscape off Angeles Crest Highway, north of La Cañada Flintridge. The spot is believed to be the source of origin of the Station fire.

A person close to the investigation said investigators found incendiary material near the site. The source, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, would not be more specific or identify the material.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said investigators don't want to release details out of fear they could hurt their ability to find and prosecute an arsonist.

Baca stressed that the homicide probe is still wide-open, saying investigators believe that the fire was set deliberately by someone intent on triggering a devastating blaze but that there is a possibility it could have been sparked accidentally by a negligent person. Either way, the sheriff said the department could pursue homicide charges.

"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, authorities cordoned off an area near Mile Marker 29 along Angeles Crest Highway with yellow tape, blocking the highway as investigators searched through the ash under a scorched oak tree using wire mesh sifters. Even Caltrans workers were turned away.

The probe has been complicated somewhat by the fact that fire burned over the point of origin twice, making the collection of evidence difficult, other people familiar with the investigation told The Times.

The arson announcement came as firefighters made more progress Thursday in containing the fire.

Firefighters expected to have further information on containment after conducting infrared mapping.

-- Richard Winton and Ari B. Bloomekatz