Transient Pleads Not Guilty to Starting Fire

Crime, Law and JusticeArsonCrimeWildfiresFamilyDeathJustice System

LANCASTER -- A transient pleaded not guilty Monday to starting a small forest fire six days before a deadly wildfire erupted.

Babatunsin Olukunle, a 25-year-old Nigerian national, was arrested Thursday by deputies in Lancaster, said Sheriff's Lt. Liam Gallagher.

He's charged with starting the Lady Bug fire, which broke out on August 20, six miles away from the Station Fire ignition point along Highway 2 near a ranger station north of La Canada Flintridge.

"During our investigation of the Station Fire, we received tips from the public that there was a male black transient that was seen for several months prior to the fire going up and down Angeles Crest Highway," Gallagher said in a news conference Monday.

Investigators had also wanted to question Olukunle about the Aug. 26 Station Fire, in which two firefighters were killed.

But he hasn't been named a suspect in that fire, according to deputies and the District Attorney's Office.

Court officials said Olukunle's bail was set at $100,000 and he will return to court Nov. 19 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.

Olukunle is a Nigerian national who arrived in the United States with his family in 1999, Gallagher said.

"He was student at UC Davis up until 2007," Gallagher said. "He came home from UC Davis on his summer break, and (was) sort of acting strangely, left the family, and they haven't seen him since."

There is no evidence linking Olukunle to the Station fire, Gallagher said.

The Station Fire broke out August 26 and is the largest brush fire in L.A. County history, burning more than 250 square miles and destroying 53 structures.

Two firefigthers were killed battling the blaze when their truck fell 800 feet into a ravine as they tried to escape the flames.

Los Angeles County and the state have offered a $150,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the arsonist.

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