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Man arrested after wallet stolen from firefighter battling California wildfires

The sheriff of Santa Cruz County said the suspect admitted the theft and wrote a letter of apology.
Image: Sheriff Jim Hart
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart on Thursday announces the arrest of a suspect accused of having stolen a wallet from a firefighter battling California wildfires.KNTV

The sheriff in Santa Cruz County, California, had some good news for a change Thursday: A suspect was arrested after a firefighter's wallet was stolen.

The wallet belonged to a ground commander with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, who was busy several days ago battling the CZU Lightning Complex fires in a rural part of the county.

The thief took the bank and credit cards and was reported to have emptied the bank account Saturday, making several purchases of gift cards to spend elsewhere. One was for $1,400, Sheriff Jim Hart said.

Hart identified the suspect as Brian Johnson, 37, of Live Oak, who was arrested late Wednesday. The arrest was first reported by NBC Bay Area.

"The investigations team went to his house and conducted a probation search because this man is on formal probation, and they located the clothing that was depicted in the video on our Facebook," Hart said. "And they recovered merchandise that had recently been purchased."

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According to the sheriff, Johnson admitted his wrongdoing and wrote a letter of apology to the firefighter. He was arrested on multiple felony charges, including credit card theft. Hart said people from around the country were interested in the case, with some offering to cover the firefighter's losses.

"What matters is that a person that came to help us was victimized, and it's just not right," he said. "And I'm really going to advocate to have this guy held accountable."

As of Thursday afternoon, the CZU Lightning Complex fires had been 21 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

The fire complex is one of a handful of large fires continuing to burn along the rim of the San Francisco Bay Area, two of which are considered to be the largest in the state's history in terms of acres burned.

"We're seeing a lot of good progress on the fire. The weather's been cooperating in some aspects with us as far as putting our lines in and extinguishing fire and, in other aspects, kind of hindering us in terms of our air attack program," Chief Mark Brunton, a battalion chief for Cal Fire, said in an online briefing posted earlier Thursday.