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October 28, 2006

Murder by Fire

Associated PressBorn and raised in Southern California, wildfires have been as much a part of my life as summers at the beach.

I was seven and I can remember sitting in the car as my grandfather drove us through the ruins of Bel Air after it was devestated in November 1961. Where beautiful homes stood amidst lush landscaping, a pageant of glorious color, now was a blasted landscape of grey and black, a sparse forest of blackened chimneys. It comes back to me each time fire dominates the news and my neighborhood.

Fire in the tinder-dry hillsides of Southern California in the fall is bad enough. It is living hell when the Santa Ana winds howl and the fire literally explodes across the landscape.

That is what caught the U.S. Forest Service firefighters that were overrun on Thursday in the Esperanza fire. Three died instantly, one shortly afterwards, and a fifth is hospitalized in grave condition with burns on 90 percent of his body.

A tragedy? Yes, but more than that. Take a good look at the picture below. That is what is left of their firetruck. These firefighters were murdered. Murdered by the arsonist(s) that deliberately set that fire.

A firefighter from the California Department of Forestry examines the burned-out crew transport rig where four firefighters died and one was seriously burned fighting the Esperanza fire in Twin Pines, Calif., Friday, Oct. 27, 2006.

Listening to the officials talk about this, one cannot help but hear the barely restrained rage in their voices. Flags may be flying at half mast across the state, but there is nothing halved in the emotions flowing through state and local service personnel - firefighters, police, ems, search and rescue - and the friends and neighbors of these murdered men.

As it stands right now, the reward for information to find the arsonist(s) is at $500,000.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger added $100,000 in state money to a reward already posted by Riverside County for information leading to the arsonist. San Bernardino County and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which has a casino, added another $200,000. A Rancho Mirage resident, Tim Blixseth also donated $100,000, bringing the total to $500,000.

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Posted by Darleen at October 28, 2006 12:03 AM


I heard on the news last night that the fire started at a teen hangout. One of them will talk soon. A true tragedy & the worst part - man-made.

Posted by: Greta at October 28, 2006 05:47 AM

Darleen, the photos are perfect and show what it is like, one can see the heat in those flames so close to the firefighter. The firefighters and the police, ems, search and rescue are such special people. I am so furious that someone started this fire.

Posted by: Wild Thing at October 28, 2006 09:54 AM

No, and this is an important point. (And I realize the suspect is going to be CHARGED with murder). The important point to remember is that for a homicide to be a murder, the suspect has to have actually INTENDED to kill the victims, and in a REAL judicial system, not a "judicial" system, this would have to be first asserted and then established beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused INTENDED to kill the homicide victims. For him to have MURDERED the firemen he would have had to have intended their deaths and deliberately caused them to die. Second degree murder would be a spur of the moment killing, like in a bar fight if a guy pulls out a gun and shoots the other guy, that is second degree murder because he intended to kill the person but it was in that moment. First degree murder requires an even tougher burden of proof, in that the accused has to be proven to have planned the murder in advance, making it a premeditated murder, for example if he had gone to someone's home in the day and nailed their windows shut then came back in the middle of the night and nailed their doors shut and burned their house down with them in it. That would be first degree murder. Arson causing firemen to be killed accidentally in the course of fighting the fire is not something that would be able to be proven to have been intentional homicide, period. It would be considered voluntary manslaughter for the five deaths and arson for the act itself of setting the fire. But in this country nowadays anytime someone dies accidentally and it is because of someone else's actions (the very definition of manslaughter) they call it "murder" because it is an immature lynch mob mentality that has infected America's "judicial" system of late. Pretty sad commentary on a broken "justice" system.

Posted by: Realist at November 5, 2006 08:58 PM


What District Attorney office do you practice at?

Let me clue you in here... If you decide to illegally obtain a machine gun, then stand in the middle of the street and fire it off in all directions, killing people in houses, it is no defense against murder charges that you didn't "intend" to kill them. Your illegal behavior was so egregious, so telling that death was highly probable, that it rises to murder. Death occuring during deliberate arson rises to murder because the probablity of bodily harm and death is close to inevitable.

Arson is also a strike in California.

And with two special allegations, the perp is eligible for the death penalty (the decision whether to pursue that or not hasn't been made yet).

Posted by: Darleen at November 5, 2006 10:29 PM