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Substance found near Station fire ignition point is key evidence in arson probe [Updated]

September 4, 2009 |  3:14 pm

Investigators believe a substance found near the Station fire’s point of origin helped spread the deadly blaze, and it has emerged as 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 road turnoff that is at the center of the arson probe.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was an ongoing investigation, 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.

Sources said that investigators are going through a database of arson suspects and fire bugs to search for possible suspects.

[Updated at 7:15 p.m.: The governor tonight offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist.]

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; he said 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.

Two firefighters were killed in the blaze.

"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 ash under a scorched oak tree. Even Caltrans workers were turned away.

-- Richard  Winton