x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Police say arsonist behind Los Angeles wildfires

Police are seeking a suspected arsonist after revealing the fires that ravaged Los Angeles were thought to have been started deliberately.

Police are seeking a suspected arsonist after revealing the fires that have ravaged tens of thousands of hectares north of Los Angeles were thought to have been started deliberately. The Los Angeles Times reported that materials used to start and spread flames were discovered near to where the fire erupted 10 days ago.

The arsonist is likely to face homicide charges as two firefighters died when their lorry fell down a hillside last weekend. "Arson investigators have concluded that the fire was the result of an act of arson," Rita Wears, a US Forest Service official, said. "The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide bureau has initiated a homicide investigation due to the tragic deaths of the two Los Angeles County firefighters as a result of this fire."

More than 4,700 firefighters are tackling the blaze, which has destroyed more than 60,000 hectares and 64 homes. Air tankers and helicopters have been drafted in to drop water on the fire, aided by more than 400 fire engines and 60 bulldozers used to create fire breaks. Flames had died down early yesterday and the fire, which was 38 per cent surrounded, was "pretty quiet", the fire spokesman John Huschke said.

Most of the 10,000 people ordered to evacuate their homes have been allowed to return as the so-called Station Fire is gradually brought under control. Six people who ignored evacuation orders have been injured. Higher humidity and cooler temperatures, along with reduced amounts of smoke, have helped firefighters make "excellent progress" in tackling the fire. However, the fire - the largest in Los Angeles County's history - is not likely to be extinguished before mid-September and 12,000 homes and 500 commercial buildings are listed as threatened.

"This is the biggest ever," said Capt Jerry Meehan of the Los Angeles Fire Department. "This is the hottest-burning, most damaging I've ever seen." The blaze has spread into areas of the Angeles National Forest that have never before been affected by wildfires. The two firefighters killed last Sunday were Ted Hall, 47, and Arnie Quinones, 35, whose wife is pregnant with the couple's first child. A memorial service for the two men is planned at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in a week's time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, visited areas affected by the fire on Thursday. He described as "horrible" the impact the fire has had on those whose homes had been destroyed. "Even though we are still battling those fires, we are now trying to help get people's lives rebuilt," he said. California's dry climate, winds and rapid housing development in rural and densely forested areas have made it increasingly vulnerable to forest fires.

Two years ago, eight people died when wildfires destroyed 2,000 homes, forced 640,000 people to flee and caused US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) of damage. dbardsley@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse