Arson Suspect in Deadly California Blaze Charged in 13 Other Fires

The man accused of setting a blaze that killed five firefighters last fall is being charged with additional counts linking him to 13 other fires, authorities said Friday.

Raymond Lee Oyler was charged in an amended complaint filed this week with a total of 19 additional counts of arson and of using an incendiary device in setting the other fires, district attorney spokeswoman Ingrid Wyatt told The Associated Press.

The 36-year-old auto mechanic is expected in court Monday for a preliminary hearing. He also will be arraigned on the new charges. In all, he faces 23 arson counts and 17 counts of using an incendiary device, as well as five counts of first-degree murder.

Oyler was originally charged in a string of fires that began in June, but the amended complaint adds charges for multiple fires in May and June, and one new fire apiece in July and September.

An evidence log obtained by The AP shows investigators recovered pieces of a cigarette-and-matches incendiary device from at least four of the new blazes. The log also shows 62 suspected arsons in the Banning area between May 16 and Oct. 27.

Oyler was arrested Oct. 31 after a wind-whipped fire raced through the foothills near Banning, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. He has pleaded not guilty to the original arson and murder charges.

His attorney, Mark McDonald, did not immediately return a phone call Friday.

A sheriff's report said Oyler's cousin told investigators the suspect spent an entire night one week before the deadly blaze "casing the area" for a good arson location.

Oyler's girlfriend also told investigators Oyler wanted to start a fire as "a diversion" so he could get his pit bull out of the Banning Animal Shelter, according to the report.

In an interview Thursday, attorney McDonald said the cousin was not a credible witness because she had a feud with Oyler and his closest relatives. McDonald said Oyler's girlfriend was badgered by investigators and she now denies telling them any of the information in the report.

Five firefighters were overrun by flames on Oct. 26 while protecting a home. Three died at the scene and two died later.