Old Fire (2003)

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Old Fire
Old Fire
Location San Bernardino Mountains
Date(s) October 25, 2003 – November 2, 2003
17:37 (PDT)
Burned area 91,281 acres (369.40 km2)
Ignition source Arson
Land use Mixed, residential and wildlands
Fatalities 6

The Old Fire was a wildfire that started on October 25, 2003, near Old Waterman Canyon Road and California State Route 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains, in San Bernardino County, Southern California.

The Old Fire was one of 15 wildfires throughout Southern California that month, which became known as the "2003 Firestorm" and the "Fire Siege of 2003.".[1] This included the huge Cedar Fire, the second largest fire in California's history after the Santiago Canyon Fire of 1889.

Old Fire wildfire[edit]

Old Fire: Infrared aerial close up image

Fanned by the Santa Ana winds, the Old Fire burned 91,281 acres (369.40 km2), destroyed 993 homes and caused 6 deaths. The fire threatened San Bernardino and Highland, as well as the mountain resort communities of Cedar Glen, Crestline, Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead and forcing upwards of 80,000 residents to evacuate their homes. Part of California State University, San Bernardino burned during the fire.

The fire was fully contained on November 2, 2003 with the help of rain and snow.[2] The final cost of the fire was $42 million. The Lake Arrowhead community is now part of a Redevelopment Agency which is controlled by a Board of Supervisors.

Old Fire, Padua, and Grand Prix wildfires[edit]

A USFS report on the "true" combined costs of the 2003 Old Fire, Padua, and the Grand Prix wildfires (the Grand Prix Fire merged with the Old Fire and the part of the Grand Prix Fire that crossed into Los Angeles County was known as the "Padua Fire") was nearly $1.3 billion. When cleanup, watershed damages and other costs are considered beyond the expenses for firefighting and property damage, wildfire impacts are much higher. About 750,000 acres (3,000 km2) were blackened across five southern California counties.[2]

Causes: arson and accidental ignition[edit]

Old Fire and Grand Prix fires: Natural color aerial image

In 2009, Rickie Lee Fowler was charged with igniting the Old Fire. Authorities charged that he was a passenger in a white van seen leaving the area where the fire started, and that Fowler was the person seen throwing a lit flare into brush by the side of the road.[3] The driver of the van, Martin David Valdez, Jr., died of a gunshot wound in 2006. A grand jury indicted Fowler on October 19, 2009, with one count of arson of an inhabited structure, one count of aggravated arson, and five counts of murder, based on five residents in the burn evacuation areas who died of heart attacks. Although a sixth man also died of a heart attack after the fire was set, prosecutors were unable to directly link that death to the stress of the fire.[4] Similarly, although the fire stripped the soil of vegetation and destabilized the slopes, no one was charged in the deaths of fourteen people killed two months later when a mudslide ripped through a camp in Waterman Canyon.[5]

On January 21, 2010, the San Bernardino County prosecutor announced that he would seek the death penalty.[6] Fowler then recanted his confession, saying that he had admitted to the crime only to appease authorities so that he could be transferred to a prison closer to his mother.[7]

In September 2011, Fowler moved to dismiss the indictment because the prosecutors had failed to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.[8] [9] In January 2012 he was reportedly discussing a plea bargain,[4] but no plea bargain was reached and the case went to trial.[3]

The trial started July 2012 in San Bernardino.[10] rescheduled from January,[11] Prosecutors charged special circumstances which can bring the death penalty. On August 15, 2012, Fowler was convicted of five counts of murder and two counts of arson.[12] On September 28, 2012, the jury returned a verdict of death.[5] The death verdict was affirmed by the trial judge on January 28, 2013.[13]

On August 7, 2007, local newspapers reported that 25-year-old Jeremiah D. Hope, of Riverside, faced federal charges for starting a blaze that eventually merged with the Old Fire. Authorities said Hope had been evacuated from his Crestline home when he and some friends off-roaded onto dry vegetation in order to get a better view of the Old Fire. The vehicle's catalytic converter reportedly sparked a second fire near Playground Road, which firefighters dubbed the Playground Fire. That fire quickly consumed forest land and later became part of the Old Fire. Hope faced misdemeanor counts of causing the National Forest to burn without a permit and one count of placing a vehicle in a dangerous area.

Victims[edit]

The victims identified were Charles Howard Cunningham, 93, of San Bernardino; Ralph Eugene McWilliams, 67, of Cedar Glen; Chad Leo Williams, 70, of Crestline; James William McDermoth, 70, of San Bernardino; and Robert Norman Taylor, 54, of San Bernardino. All five victims died from indirect consequences of the fire, due to heart attacks brought on by physical or emotional strain.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]


Coordinates: 34°12′N 117°17′W / 34.20°N 117.28°W / 34.20; -117.28