Skip to main content
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

Gov. Schwarzenegger vows to 'hunt down' arsonists

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Two fires have suspicious origins in addition to two arsons, governor says
  • NEW: Schwarzenegger urges culprits to turn themselves in
  • Authorities have 1,700 tips about a pickup that may be a lead in one of the arsons
  • Witnesses reported seeing the truck about the time the Santiago Fire started
  • Next Article in U.S. »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

ORANGE, California (CNN) -- With the number of uncontained fires down to nine in Southern California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned his attention Saturday to what he called "the ugly side of human behavior" during and after the disaster.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks Saturday at a news conference at the scene of the Santiago Canyon fire.

At least two of the fires were started intentionally and two more have suspicious origins, he said during a news conference, issuing a warning for the arsonists.

"We will hunt down the people that are responsible for that," he said.

"If I were one of the people who started the fires, I would not sleep soundly right now, because we're right behind you," Schwarzenegger said, urging the culprits to turn themselves in. Video Watch the governor's tough message »

Authorities said Saturday they were following 1,700 tips about a white Ford F-150 pickup that may be a lead in determining who set the sprawling Santiago Fire in Orange County.

Witnesses reported seeing the 1998-2004 model truck with chrome tubular running boards on Santiago Canyon Road on Sunday afternoon, about the time the Santiago Fire started.

Investigators said this week that the fire had two points of origin, and they found evidence at the scene, although they declined to describe it.

Possible leads have been coming in to a hotline.

The fire is 35 percent contained -- down from 50 percent on Wednesday.

It has burned 27,000 acres and destroyed 14 homes. There is a $250,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Authorities also consider the Rosa Fire in San Diego County, which burned more than 400 acres before being fully contained, an arson.

Five people in three counties have been arrested in arson probes, but none has been linked to any of the large fires.

Anyone who tries to rip off vulnerable homeowners and anyone else victimized by the fire will get "no mercy" in finding and prosecuting them, several officials said.

State Insurance Commissioner Stephen Poizner said his office has 100 fraud investigators on the ground going door-to-door with local law enforcement, telling residents how to avoid scam artists.

Detectives will also conduct sting operations to catch anyone trying to exploit those who have suffered.

At least two arrests were made in the past few days for looting, Poizner said. It turned out that both suspects were wanted for attempted murder, he said.

Meanwhile, downed power lines, leaking gas lines, broken water pipes and still-blazing fires have blocked the return of thousands of Southern Californians who fled their homes this week ahead of more than 20 wind-whipped wildfires.

Fourteen people died, seven from the fires and seven from causes linked to their evacuations.

With the number of uncontained fires down to nine, hundreds of thousands made the trip back home. For most, the return was, if not joyful, at least filled with relief. See where the fires are still burning »

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger announced more help for victims of the fire.

Cash grants of up to $10,000 will be available to help people with expenses caused by the disaster, such as housing, medical costs and transportation, he said.

That's in addition to assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"California stands ready to provide fire victims all the assistance they need to get their lives back on track. Even after the fires are extinguished, we will still be here to help fire victims in need," Schwarzenegger said.

In Poway, northeast of San Diego, Mike Perry and his neighbors watched in disbelief this week as fire climbed over a hill near his home and crept closer to his front door. He recalled the Cedar fire of 2003, which destroyed about 280,000 acres.

"It was a helpless feeling then," he said, gesturing toward a huge, high-powered industrial hose on his lawn that he bought at the time. As he talked to CNN, he clutched a massive wrench that he had used to turn it on.

With firefighters stretched thin, he used the hose this week to douse flames from the Rice Canyon Fire.

His neighbors, some of whom had bought their own sophisticated hoses, pitched in. Perry is sure that without them, his house would have been burned. Video Watch one family's tearful ride home »

"It was surreal in that we were clearly thinking, we knew what we had to do," he said. "You had to save your home and your neighbors' homes, and that's what mattered."

The Rice Canyon Fire, which burned dozens of homes to the ground in Fallbrook, was 80 percent contained Saturday at about 9,000 acres as calmer winds made firefighters' jobs a little easier, fire officials said. Photo See photos of the fires »

After a week in which nearly a million Southern Californians fled their homes in seven counties, fewer than 50,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders in hardest-hit San Diego County.

There, nine wildfires torched over 450 square miles, more than a tenth of the Connecticut-sized county's total area. Watch victims react to seeing their destroyed neighborhood »

San Diego city officials closed Qualcomm Stadium, home to the NFL's Chargers, to evacuees at midday Friday and cleared the team to play its scheduled Sunday afternoon game there against the Houston Texans.

Air in San Diego County remains unhealthy, especially in Oceanside and Chula Vista, said Bill Brick, senior meteorologist for the Air Pollution Control District.

Public health experts recommend lightly misting indoor and outdoor hard surfaces before gently sweeping ash. Video Watch the impact of the smoke »

The number of people hurt in the fires increased Friday to 85, including at least 61 firefighters, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Flames destroyed at least 1,641 homes, the department said.


The cost of homes destroyed by the wildfires is likely to top $1 billion in San Diego County alone, an emergency official said.

Although forecasters predict no rain during the upcoming days, CNN's Jenny Harrison described a "much better picture" approaching -- including lighter winds and cloud coverage that will reduce temperatures and humidity. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Kyra Phillips, Allan Chernoff, Keith Oppenheim and Jacqui Jeras contributed to this report.

All About WildfiresArnold Schwarzenegger

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print