October 20, 2009 in Nation/World

Arrest made in fire probe

Thomas Watkins Associated Press
 

LOS ANGELES – A homeless man was arrested and charged with arson for starting a tiny blaze in August near the spot where a gigantic wildfire erupted several days later, killing two firefighters, homicide detectives said Monday.

Babatunsin Olukunle, 25, is the strongest lead to date in the arson investigation stemming from a fire that destroyed 89 homes, burned 250 square miles of national forest and killed two firefighters when their truck plunged off a road. It was one of the largest fires in Southern California history.

The Nigerian man was arrested Thursday and charged Monday with one felony count of recklessly causing a fire. Authorities said he started a fire that charred an area about the size of a table top on Aug. 20 and was quickly extinguished by two U.S. Forest Service workers who happened to be passing and spotted smoke.

The small fire burned off the side of the Angeles Crest Highway. Six days later and six miles down the same road, the devastating Station fire broke out.

Olukunle pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Monday.

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