Authorities arrested five men Thursday on allegations they caused a fire that destroyed more than 50 homes and caused over $100 million in losses in Malibu.
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.
“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.
The suspects were each charged with two felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and recklessly causing fire to inhabited structures, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office.
They were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Van Nuys Superior Court. Bail amounts ranged from $240,000 to $265,000.
Each charge would carry two to four years of prison time upon conviction.
Baca said the men were from the Los Angeles area. They did not have listed phone numbers in Los Angeles County.
Whitmore said 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.
‘They just drove off’
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said campfires in the area were prohibited.
Arson detective Irma Gonzales said 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.
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 arrest warrants, Whitmore said.
The wildfire destroyed more than 50 homes, more than 30 outbuildings, a 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.