LOS ANGELES – Arrest warrants have been issued for five men accused of causing a Malibu fire that destroyed more than 50 homes and caused over $100 million in losses, authorities said.
Investigators used surveillance video, receipts and food wrappers to track down the men who were believed to have been at the cave where the fire started, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Thursday.
"As adults we have always taught our children to be aware of the perils of fire," Baca said. "In this case adults and fire and carelessness ... are things that led to this crime."
Baca identified the men as Brian Allen Anderson, 22; William Thomas Coppock, 23; Brian David Franks, 27; Eric Matthew Ullman, 18; and 19-year-old Dean Allen Lavorante.All five were in custody Thursday evening, Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
It was unclear whether they had retained lawyers. None of the men had listed phone numbers in the Los Angeles County area.
Baca said the men, all from the Los Angeles area, were suspected of recklessly causing a fire with bodily injury, causing fire to an inhabited structure and arson during an emergency.
Baca said each charged carried two to four years of prison time upon conviction.
Whitmore said earlier Thursday that investigators found several pieces of evidence that indicated revelers had triggered the blaze by setting a campfire at a popular party spot by a cave in Corral Canyon, which abuts Malibu Creek State Park.
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said campfires in the area were prohibited.
"It is illegal to set fires in the cave above Corral Canyon under any circumstances. Whether there's a Santa Ana wind condition or not, it's illegal," said Yaroslavsky.
A review of security tape from a nearby store's camera and other detective work that took investigators as far away as Shasta County, on the Oregon line, led to the suspects being identified, Whitmore said.
Arson detective Irma Gonzales said a group of 12 people had been partying at the cave. She did not comment on how the blaze spread from the campfire, but said the group did not try to fight it, nor did they try to warn residents as they fled from the flames.
"They just drove off," Gonzales said.
The wildfire destroyed 53 homes, 33 outbuildings, one mobile home and 37 vehicles. Another 34 homes and 11 outbuildings were damaged. No one was seriously injured.
The fire broke out Nov. 24 and took several days to contain.