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Officials suspect arson in blaze

Fire officials working with police to determine cause of Bonita Canyon flames. Fallen power lines likely not the culprit, they say.

October 21, 2008|By Joseph Serna

A wildfire that damaged two homes and forced hundreds of Newport Beach residents to evacuate their homes last week was most likely deliberately set, fire officials said Tuesday.

“We’re pretty certain it was set. Fire investigators are working with the police department,” Newport Beach Fire Marshal Steve Bunting said. “The area [where the fire started] was gated off and closed to the public.”

About 3:20 p.m. Oct. 13, a fire started in Bonita Canyon’s brush and quickly spread, thanks to gusty Santa Ana winds kicking up that day. Winds have contributed to many fires starting in California over the years, including when power lines were blown down in Los Angeles earlier this year. Last week’s fire, officials said, was probably not an accident.

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“Early stages, we’re leaning toward it not being downed lines,” Capt. Ron Gamble said. “But as far as who started it, what started it, we’re still investigating.”

Bunting said fire officials do their best to preserve the area where a blaze started while they’re battling flames and afterward, when the investigation begins. Officials said it appears the fire started in a fenced-off area off a service road leading to the San Joaquin Reservoir. The area is close to the Port Street neighborhoods and its residents, Bunting said.

Investigators found toys, a wooden ladder nailed to a tree and other belongings around there, Bunting said.

“It’s clear that the kids in the neighborhood are playing up there,” he said. That doesn’t necessarily mean anyone around there started the fire, he said.

Firefighters were able to put down the flames within a couple of hours, and the 300 residents who lived by the reservoir’s west side slope were soon allowed back to their homes. The blaze scorched 10 acres of land and lightly damaged two homes, officials said.

Anyone with information regarding the blaze can call Newport Beach Fire Prevention at (949) 644-3106.


JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com. JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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