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Strong detective work leads to five arrests in Malibu fire

By on December 29, 2019

first_imgPrecut fire logs and discarded food wrappers were among clues that led to the arrest Thursday of five men who arson investigators believe started last month’s devastating Malibu wildfire. Sheriff Lee Baca said a winding investigation took detectives to as far as the Oregon border, to a grocery store and to debit card records. The result: tracking down the Los Angeles area men who authorities believe set an illegal campfire at the cave where the wildfire started. “As adults we have always taught our children to be aware of the perils of fire,” Baca said during a news conference. “In this case adults and fire and carelessness … are things that led to this crime.” County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said campfires in the area were prohibited. Baca said each felony charge could carried two to four years of prison time if convicted. Attempts to find phone listings for the men were unsuccessful. Baca said investigators went through security tape and receipts at a local Ralphs market, eventually learning the identity of those believed to be responsible by checking a debit card number. Investigators then traveled up to Shasta County near the Oregon border to speak to witnesses. No one from that county was charged, officials said. Whitmore said arson investigators found several pieces of evidence that indicated revelers had triggered the blaze by setting a campfire at a popular party spot by a cave in Corral Canyon, which abuts Malibu Creek State Park. The graffiti-covered cave is located off a service road overlooking the rolling hills of Malibu that lead down into the Pacific Ocean. Arson detective Irma Gonzales said a group of 12 people had been partying at the cave. She did not comment on how the blaze spread from the campfire, but said the group did not try to fight it, nor did they try to warn residents as they fled from the flames. “They just drove off,” Gonzales said. The Nov. 24 fire took firefighters several days to contain, destroyed over 50 homes, 35 other structures and burned over 4,900 acres in the Corral Canyon area, officials said. The total cost of the fire was estimated at $100 million, and six firefighters were injured. —- Associated Press Writers Robert Jablon and Christopher Weber contributed to this report.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “It is illegal to set fires in the cave above Corral Canyon under any circumstances. Whether there’s a Santa Ana wind condition or not, it’s illegal,” said Yaroslavsky. “It is reckless, on top of the illegality, to set a fire anywhere in the mountains when there is a Santa Ana wind condition as there was the night this fire broke out.” Baca identified the men as Brian Allen Anderson, 22; William Thomas Coppock, 23; Brian David Franks, 27; Eric Matthew Ullman, 18; and 19-year-old Dean Allen Lavorante. All five were in custody Thursday evening, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. It was unclear whether they had retained lawyers. The suspects were each charged with two felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing fire to inhabited structures, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office. They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Van Nuys Superior Court. Bails range from $240,000 to $265,000.last_img read more

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