Amid worries of new blazes adding to the firestorm already afflicting the region, a man in Hesperia has been arrested on suspicion of arson, and police reported shooting and killing another arson suspect after chasing him out of scrub behind Cal State San Bernardino.
Law enforcement officials said today that they didn't know whether either of the men had started any of the more than a dozen large fires that have devastated Southern California in recent days, including the nearby Lake Arrowhead blaze. The brush fire in Hesperia was quickly extinguished by residents.
Investigators have said that at least two of the huge wildfires, one in Orange County and the other in Temecula, were the work of arsonists.
The confrontation that ended in the shooting death started about 6 p.m. Tuesday when San Bernardino university police spotted a man in a rural area of flood channels and scrub near the campus. University police tried to detain the man, but he got into his car and fled, authorities said. When he began to ram officers' vehicle, they shot him.
The suspect is described as a 27-year-old man with a home address in Arizona. Sheriff's investigators will search his impounded pickup truck pending a search warrant, Lt. Scott Patterson of the San Bernardino Police Department said this afternoon.
No additional information, including his identity will be released until Thursday.
"We don't know whether he was an arsonist," Patterson said. "What was related by the Cal State police was that they tried to contact him as a suspicious person in a brush area. Things being how they are, there was a suspicion that he could be an arsonist."
The area near the campus had been affected by the massive Old Fire of 2003, Patterson said, adding that "it's very fire-prone. It's an area that would be very devastated if a fire were to start there."
San Bernardino police joined campus authorities in pursuit of the suspect. He drove north on Waterman Avenue and up a dirt fire road into the foothills. When officers tried to take him into custody, he began to batter officers' vehicles with car, Patterson said. Officers shot and killed him.
"Both agencies' officers fired," said University Police Chief Jimmie Brown, who added that it was not known who fired the fatal shot. "But right now, we don't know too much more."
The shooting is being investigated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which is routine for officer-involved shootings.
About three hours later in Hesperia, a man was seen by a female motorist squatting along the side of Highway 173 just south of Arrowhead Lake Road. Sheriff's officials say John Alfred Rund, 48, of Hesperia had just started a fire along the flat, isolated, scrubby road.
The woman called police, and Highway Patrol and sheriff's deputies were soon looking for the suspect, who witnesses said took off on a Honda motorcycle, wearing a red-and-white-striped helmet.
Four residents grabbed shovels and put out the fire with clods of dirt, said sheriff's spokesperson Jodi Miller.
A CHP helicopter, using infrared equipment, caught sight of Rund on his motorcycle, Miller said. Along with CHP officers, sheriff's deputies found and arrested him at a home along Highway 173 near Highway 138, she said.
He was being held on $750,000 bail on suspicion of arson and is to appear in court tomorrow in Victorville.
"He has not been connected in any way so far with any fire up on the hill," Miller said. "We don't know at this point what started that fire."