Police Arrest Man Suspected of Starting California Wildfire

Smoke from the Cranston Fire clouds the skies over Highway 243, south of Idyllwild, Calif., Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Authorities ordered residents to leave Idyllwild, home to about 12,000 people, and surrounding forest communities in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles. (Richard Lui/The Desert Sun via AP )

IDYLLWILD, Calif. (CN) – Authorities have arrested a 32-year-old man suspected of starting multiple fires that erupted into a wildfire, forcing hundreds to flee their homes in Southern California.

Brandon N. Mc Glover, of Temecula, is suspected of starting multiple fires Wednesday on federal land in the San Bernardino National Forest, said authorities.

Authorities say those fires erupted into the Cranston Fire, which has so far burned 4,700 acres and is just 5 percent contained. Hundreds of residents have been ordered to flee, including the entire town of Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County. At least 3,200 residents live in the evacuation zone and multiple highways in the area have been closed.

Federal and state fire officials responding to a wildfire on Wednesday in the San Bernardino National Forest were able to provide a description of Mc Glover and a bulletin was issued to local law enforcement, authorities said.

Mc Glover was charged with five counts of arson to wildland and booked into a detention center in Murrieta, California. Additional charges may be filed as the investigation continues.

Five homes have been destroyed in Cranston Fire so far, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Federal and state fire officials and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office are working together in the investigation.

Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency for Riverside County and another wildfire burning in Northern California. The Carr Fire, burning in Shasta County, has blackened 20,000 acres and is just 10 percent contained. According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that fire was started when a car broke down in dry brush.

The fire is one of several across California amid a statewide heat wave. To the north, in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least one home burned in a fast-moving blaze in Clayton, where houses are spread out around windy roads.

Yosemite Valley, the scenic heart of the national park, was closed at noon Wednesday during the height of tourist season as smoke cast a pall on the region from a fire in the Sierra Nevada. The closure was heartbreaking for travelers, many of whom mapped out their trips months in advance to hike and climb amid the spectacular views of cascading waterfalls and sheer rock faces.

“We had one guest who planned a weeklong trip,” said Tom Lambert, who owns a vacation rental property near Yosemite Valley. “It was a father-daughter trip, for her high school graduation … Now it’s done. It’s sad.” Another guest had to delay plans to climb Half Dome.

The closure has also been a financial blow to Lambert and other businesses that rely on the summer tourist traffic.

Most people left the valley Tuesday, when officials reluctantly announced the closure, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. The remaining campers packed up their gear Wednesday, joining the exodus that has been mostly orderly.

“People have been very understanding,” Gediman said.

Officials emphasized that Yosemite wasn’t in imminent danger from the fire. Authorities decided on the shutdown to allow crews to perform protective measures such as burning away brush along roadways without having to deal with traffic in the park that welcomes 4 million visitors annually.

On Wednesday, an extended family from Los Angeles on their annual trip to Yosemite prepared to leave the Upper Pines campground.

“Very disappointed,” Lisa Salgado said. “We look forward to this all year. This is the trip of our summer.”

The group arrived Monday and had planned to stay through Saturday. Instead, they packed tents and other gear into vehicles, hoping they could find another campground elsewhere.

“So, this is a new memory,” said Miguel Martinez. “I’ve never been evacuated before.”

Yosemite Valley will be closed until at least Sunday, along with a winding, mountainous, 20-mile (32-kilometer) stretch of California’s State Route 41 that leads into the area, Gediman said.

At least 1,000 campground and hotel bookings were canceled — to say nothing of the impact on day visitors, park workers and small businesses along the highway, Gediman said.

The last time the 7.5-mile-long (12-kilometer-long) valley was closed because of fire was 1990, he said.

Lambert and his wife, Theresa Ho, were briefly evacuated last week when smoke cast an unhealthy pall over the home where they live upstairs and rent the downstairs to tourists.

“Basically June, July and August are the big revenue months,” he said, estimating that about 100 nearby vacation properties would be forced to offer refunds. “We’re gonna lose half of July and half of August probably.”

Yosemite Valley is the centerpiece of the visitor experience, offering views of landmarks such as Half Dome, Bridal Veil Fall, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The glacial valley has been enveloped by a choking haze of smoke from the Ferguson Fire.

Over nearly two weeks, flames have churned through 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) of timber in steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada just west of the park. The fire was just 25 percent contained.

Mandatory evacuations are in place in several communities while other people have been told to get ready to leave if necessary.

More than 3,300 firefighters are working the fire, aided by 16 helicopters. One firefighter was killed July 14, and six others have been injured.

Gediman suggested valley visitors divert to Tuolumne Meadows, on Yosemite’s northern edge, or to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the south.

In the state’s far north, a 7-square-mile (18-square-kilometer) wildfire has forced the evacuation of French Gulch, a small Shasta County community that dates to the Gold Rush.

The Associated Press contributed to this report from Yosemite.

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