LOS ANGELES – Investigators launched a homicide investigation Thursday into the wildfire north of Los Angeles after determining that the gigantic blaze – which has killed two firefighters, scorched 226 square miles and destroyed dozens of homes – was set intentionally.
“We believe that this was caused by someone intending to set a fire,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said at an afternoon briefing.
Officials said forensic evidence at the fire’s point of origin revealed that the wildfire – among the largest in Southern California’s history – was an act of arson. Whitmore declined to elaborate on the evidence due to the ongoing investigation.
The two firefighters died Sunday when their truck went off a steep mountain road.
Los Angeles County Fire Deputy Chief Mike Bryant said he was glad investigators were making progress, but that the arson finding “doesn’t mend my broken heart,” he said.
“We got to put this fire out so no one else gets hurt,” he added.
Earlier Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured a fire-ravaged community where the fire left dozens of homes in ruins, encountering piles of twisted metal and rubble as firefighters began to bring the blaze under greater control.
The blaze was 38 percent contained Thursday, up from 28 percent the previous day.
Schwarzenegger talked to residents about their losses and later thanked firefighters for all of their work in putting out the flames. At one point during the tour, the former bodybuilder picked up a 30-pound barbell located amid the wreckage.
“Even though we are still battling those fires, we are now trying to help get people’s lives rebuilt,” Schwarzenegger said. “When you see this kind of devastation, it’s horrible to lose your home, your personal belongings.”
Despite the overall progress against the fire, firefighters dealt with a flare-up overnight in a remote canyon as strong downslope winds “just kind of blew the fire up,” said U.S. Forest Service official John Huschke. Twenty-five people in 11 homes were evacuated in the canyon area.
The wildfire, now in its eighth day, has destroyed 64 homes, burned three people and left two firefighters dead.
Full containment was expected Sept. 15, meaning fire officials expect that they will have the blaze completely surrounded by then.
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