Four firefighters were killed today when a fast-moving arson fire fed by Santa Ana winds churned through the rugged wild terrain of Riverside County, destroying homes and forcing hundreds of residents to flee.The worst thing is that the fire was probably started by an arsonist:
It was on one of those rescue efforts that a crew of firefighters were trapped in their vehicle as the rapidly moving fire simply devoured their attempt at shelter from the firestorm.
The U.S. Forest Service reported the three deaths, initially saying that two firefighters were critically injured. One of the injured died later at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, according to Cheri Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County Fire Department and the CDF. The other firefighter remains in the facility in critical condition.
The firefighters were trapped when high winds suddenly pushed the flames over them, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Pat Boss told the Associated Press.
"The engine was in the area and with the wind conditions like they were, the fire just overtakes and burns the entire engine," said Pat Boss, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman. "They were trapped within the engine."
"This is an arson fire. This is a deliberately set arson fire," fire Chief John Hawkins told reporters at an afternoon news conference. Hawkins oversees fire operations in Riverside County.
"A deliberately set arson fire that leads to the death of anyone constitutes murder," he said.
The county will establish a $100,000 reward to find the arsonist, officials said.
"Turn that scum in," said Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, one of many angry officials who vowed to find and prosecute those who started the blaze.