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Death penalty sought for man accused of setting deadly 2003 wildfire

January 25, 2010 |  7:03 am

The man accused of deliberately setting the deadly 2003 firestorm in San Bernardino that destroyed 1,000 homes will face the death penalty if convicted.

Rickie Lee Fowler, 28, who has been in state prison since 2003 for burglary, was charged in October with five counts of murder as well as arson and aggravated arson. 

“A decision to seek the death penalty in a case is never an easy one. In fact, it’s the most difficult one we make as prosecutors. We never take that responsibility lightly," San Bernardino District Atty. Michael Ramos said in a statement last week. "As in all matters, we look very closely at the facts of each case and make a determination based on the factors of aggravation and mitigation as provided by law.”

The 91,000-acre wildfire broke out Oct. 25, 2003, at Old Waterman Canyon Road and California 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains. It quickly raced through the forest and brush, forcing the evacuation of more than 30 communities and 80,000 people. Six men died of heart attacks, and investigators said five of those deaths were directly related to the stress of the fire.

On Christmas Day of that year, a huge mudslide caused by intense rain swept through a church camp in Waterman Canyon, killing 14 people.

No motive for the arson has been disclosed.

-- Shelby Grad

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