Southern California Wildfire Claims Fifth Life

Firefighter Pablo Cerda, 23, loses a weeklong struggle for his life. He is the fifth firefighter killed by a blaze east of Los Angeles that authorities say was arson. As Steven Cuevas of member station KPCC reports, one man is in custody as a "person of interest."

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.

A fifth firefighter died last night from burns suffered last week in the massive wildfire in California's San Jacinto Mountains. Here's his doctor last night speaking to reporters at the Arrowhead Medical Center in Colton, California, Dr. Dev GnanaDev.

Dr. DEV GNANADEV (Director, Arrowhead Medical Center): In the end, we did talk to the family and gave them an option, for us to go take him to the operating room again for further surgeries, knowing that his prognosis is very, very poor. And they decided to let Pablo go.

CHADWICK: Pablo Cerda was 23 years old. The fire at least has been fully contained and the sheriff's department now has what it calls a person of interest in custody. The fire was an arson.

Here with us is reporter Steve Cuevas of member station KPCC. Steven, they're stopping short of calling this person who's under arrest a suspect. Who is he?

STEVEN CUEVAS: Well, he is 36-year-old Raymond Lee Oyler. He was arrested in connection with two other arson wildfires in the same area as this past week's fire. Investigators apparently found fire-making, what they're calling fire-making materials at his house in the town of Beaumont. He's not been arrested in connection with this recent fire.

But, as you said, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department say he is a person of interest, which means he is being questioned about the case. Some are speculating that perhaps authorities might have some evidence that somehow link him to this recent wildfire and want to keep him in custody, and this may be a way to do that.

CHADWICK: Five Forest Service firefighters did die in this one fire last week; that's a lot of people in one fire event. Are the officials there saying any more about what happened?

CUEVAS: Well, not much. I mean this is the other investigation that's going on. The California Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service is conducting their own investigation as to the circumstances under which this crew was trapped and under which they perished. They're doing forensic work on the ground. They're now starting to sift through radio transmissions, interviewing the four other crews who were also in that area and were among the first to respond to this fire.

And really that's all we know right now, is that it was early on in the fire. This crew, this five-man crew was in place to protect mountain homes in the San Jacinto Mountains when they were just overrun by these flames.

CHADWICK: What is happening there in the community this week, Steven?

CUEVAS: Well, this week - first off, tonight, way up in this mountainous community, they will have a public community meeting that will include members of the Forest Service, the different agencies who were involved in fighting the fire, law enforcement. It's a chance for the communities who were affected by this fire to come out, to ask questions, maybe to grieve a little bit, maybe to vent a little anger over what happened, and a chance to say thank you to those who helped put this fire out.

CHADWICK: Is this the end of the fire season out there? Aren't the rains about to start, I think?

CUEVAS: Yeah, it is pretty much the end of the fire season. It tends to sort of bleed over into November a little bit, but really the temperatures have dropped significantly. There's a lot of humidity in the air now. So I think it's safe to say that we're pretty much at the end.

CHADWICK: Reporter Steven Cuevas of member station KPCC. Steven, thank you.

CUEVAS: Thank you, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more DAY TO DAY in a moment.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.