Officials: It's arson

At least one of the 16 fires raging in Southern California is the work of arsonists.

A major wildfire that has scorched thousands of acres and destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California has been declared an arson, according to Orange County law enforcement and FBI officials.

A total of $125,000 in reward money — $70,000 from the Orange County Fire Authority and $50,000 from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — is being offered for information leading to an arrest for those responsible for the Santiago fire in the rugged eastern part of the county.

The FBI has become involved in the investigation because part of the fire was on federal land in National Forest.

The vertical movement of the smoke showed that the fierce Santa Ana winds that had whipped seemingly small brush fires into a 426,000 acre inferno were starting to ease, FOX News’ Claudia Cowan reported.

The Santiago fire grew to 22,000 acres Wednesday night, while containment of the flames shrank from 50 percent to 30 percent. Fire officials blame the difficult terrain, erratic winds.

Orange County officials executed a search warrant Wednesday as part of a probe into whether one or more of the fires in that county were the result of arson. Earlier Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol arrested a motorcyclist who was caught setting a brush fire in San Bernadino County, near Lake Arrowhead.

And then there’s this.

Amid worries of new blazes adding to the firestorm already afflicting the region, a man in Hesperia has been arrested on suspicion of arson, and police reported shooting and killing another arson suspect after chasing him out of scrub behind Cal State San Bernardino.

Law enforcement officials said today that they didn’t know whether either of the men had started any of the more than a dozen large fires that have devastated Southern California in recent days, including the nearby Lake Arrowhead blaze. The brush fire in Hesperia was quickly extinguished by residents…

The confrontation that ended in the shooting death started about 6 p.m. Tuesday when San Bernardino university police spotted a man in a rural area of flood channels and scrub near the campus. University police tried to detain the man, but he got into his car and fled, authorities said. When he began to ram officers’ vehicle, they shot him.

The suspect is described as a 27-year-old man with a home address in Arizona. Sheriff’s investigators will search his impounded pickup truck pending a search warrant, Lt. Scott Patterson of the San Bernardino Police Department said this afternoon.

No additional information, including his identity will be released until Thursday.

“We don’t know whether he was an arsonist,” Patterson said. “What was related by the Cal State police was that they tried to contact him as a suspicious person in a brush area. Things being how they are, there was a suspicion that he could be an arsonist.”

Over a thousand homes destroyed, over a million people evacuated and so far 5 dead as a result of the fires.

More: Allah had this story yesterday, but today it went from CBS having word in advance of the official arson announcement, to it being officially announced. I missed the substance of his post because I was out on a shoot all day yesterday, and I mean “shoot” very very literally.

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