Man charged with 15 counts of arson for intentionally starting fires across southern California, angering tourists
A man suspected of intentionally starting the massive Cranston fire and eight other smaller blazes pleaded not guilty Friday after being charged with more than a dozen felonies.
A Temecula-based man, identified as Brandon McGlover, has been accused of arson after thousands of evacuations took place from an entire Southern California mountain town. Reportedly, McGlover started multiple fires on Friday that burned down a total of five homes.
According to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, if convicted, McGlover faces a potential sentence of life imprisonment after being charged with 15 felony counts.
Law enforcement reported that charges include five counts of arson of an inhabited structure, nine counts of arson of forest or wildland, and one count of aggravated arson. McGlover's bail has been set at a staggering $1 million.
On Wednesday afternoon, one of the fires he set off rapidly grew to seven-and-a-half square miles. The presence of dry bushes and trees in the rugged terrain acted as a catalyst to the raging fire.
Officials had to order evacuations for Idyllwild and surrounding communities after parts of the San Bernardino National Forest caught fire.
According to them, the blaze threatened around 4,900 structures and forced an estimated 6,000 people to evacuate.
Dozens of horses and other animals, along with throngs of people - including children from summer camps - were directed to shelters. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.
According to William Blodgett of Idyllwild, he had to wait along with others at a gas station in nearby Mountain Center and couldn't go home due to the flames. However, the fire eventually began to move in his direction after hopping a highway.
"We were all peeling out of there as fast as we could," he told KNBC-TV. "It was apocalyptic," he said.
As California faces one of the worst heat waves in its history, the fire is one of several across the state. At least one house was burned in Clayton near the San Francisco Bay area. The region is marked with houses that are spread out around windy roads.
On Wednesday afternoon, during the height of tourist season, Yosemite Valley was closed to enthusiasts as smoke emanating from a fire in the Sierra Nevada cast a shadow on the region.
The travelers, quite a few of whom had planned their trip for months in advance, were heartbroken due to the closure. They had mapped out routes to hike and climb scenic views of cascading waterfalls and rock faces in the valley.
"We had one guest who planned a weeklong trip," said Tom Lambert, owner of a vacation rental property near Yosemite Valley. "It was a father-daughter trip, for her high school graduation... Now it's done. It's sad."
On Thursday, the governor of California, Jerry Brown, issued emergency proclamations to authorize the state to rally resources to local government in both Riverside County and Shasta County.
Other businesses that rely on the summer tourist traffic suffered a serious financial blow.
According to park spokesman Scott Gediman, most people left the valley on Tuesday after the announcement.
"People have been very understanding," Gediman said.
Another family was upset as they prepared to leave the Upper Pines campground on Wednesday. Reportedly, the family makes a trip to Yosemite every year.
"Very disappointed," Lisa Salgado said. "We look forward to this all year. This is the trip of our summer."
"So, this is a new memory," said Miguel Martinez. "I've never been evacuated before."
Gediman said that the valley is scheduled to be closed at least until Sunday. The 20-mile mountainous stretch of California's State Route 41 that leads into the area has also been shut for the time being.
He said that at least 1,000 booking for the campground as well as hotel accommodations had to be canceled due to the flames.