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Man allegedly impersonating a firefighter is arrested near Lake fire

A 44-year-old man impersonating a firefighter has been arrested after he claimed to be looking for a fire crew battling the Lake fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, authorities said Tuesday.

David Anthony Battle was arrested Saturday at the Lake fire incident command center, where firefighters gather to share information about the blaze and distribute equipment, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

It is unclear whether Battle was trying to join firefighters to battle the blaze or attempting to burglarize the area, sheriff’s spokeswoman Tiffany Swantek said.

The San Bernardino resident was first spotted about 5 p.m. by deputies who were patrolling the area surrounding the fire, as well as evacuated neighborhoods.

He drove a white Crown Victoria -- a vehicle typically used by fire officials -- into the restricted area when he was stopped at a checkpoint and told deputies he was a firefighter, officials said.

Donning an authorized fire department uniform, Battle said he was trying to find his fire crew and then left the area, officials said.

About 15 minutes later, deputies found Battle and the car at the fire’s incident command post at Big Bear High School.

Battle couldn’t provide proper fire department identification, sheriff’s officials said.

After deputies checked Department of Motor Vehicles records, they determined the car was reported stolen from the city of San Bernardino two weeks ago.

Inside the vehicle, deputies found uniforms from different fire agencies, a stolen radio from the Lake fire incident and a stolen handgun.

Battle, who was on probation for grand theft auto, was immediately taken into custody on suspicion of possessing stolen property, sheriff’s officials said.

Criminal records show Battle has been convicted several times for receiving stolen property. From 1989 to 1993, he served time in correctional facilities in North Carolina for theft, burglary, receiving a stolen vehicle and forging checks.

Meanwhile, firefighters are continuing to battle the 31,359-acre wildfire, which is 60% contained. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The price tag for fighting the Lake fire so far has reached $32.5 million.

Anyone who may have seen Battle in the area or the stolen vehicle is asked to call Det. Jim Wijnhamer at (909) 866-0100, Det. Lance Stuart at (909) 890-4840 or Cal Fire Capt. Jack Markle at (909) 881-6922.

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