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Man Held After Reporting Fires; Watchman, Son Arrested in Blaze

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested three people Thursday in connection with four fires in the Antelope Valley, and investigations continued in two more blazes that occurred within the same 24-hour period.

There were no injuries in the six fires, five of which were brush fires.

Deputies arrested David Wayne Cunningham, 28, at his girlfriend’s home in Quartz Hill early Thursday in connection with two brush fires in Leona Valley and one in Quartz Hill that were set between 12:45 and 2 a.m., sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Shreves said.

Cunningham called authorities to report the first two fires and claimed that he had stomped them out, but deputies arrested him because his story was inconsistent, authorities said.

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On Thursday afternoon, sheriff’s investigators arrested a construction site security guard and his 16-year-old son in connection with a fire at 55th Street West and Avenue N-8 in Palmdale that gutted one house under construction and damaged another Wednesday night, causing $70,000 in damage, authorities said.

Dennis Leroy Rife, 33, and his son are suspected of unintentionally causing the fire with fireworks that they were setting off while Rife was on duty for Developers Security at the Griffin Homes construction site, Shreves said. A bottle rocket landed on the roof of a house under construction and ignited it, he said.

Rife and his son, both of Rosamond, were arrested on suspicion of recklessly causing a fire, a misdemeanor, Shreves said, and were to be released on their own recognizance.

Investigators were also trying to determine the cause of a small brush fire about 7:30 a.m. that burned about five acres in Bouquet Canyon and another fire that burned five acres in Placerita Canyon near the Antelope Valley Freeway about 4 p.m., according to county Fire Capt. Joseph Graham. Both fires were described as suspicious.

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The first of the three brush fires allegedly set by Cunningham started about 12:45 a.m. in the Spunky Canyon area and burned about five acres before being extinguished. The second burned about 10 acres in Leona Valley about 15 minutes later and the third burned about half an acre in Quartz Hill near the residence of Cunningham’s girlfriend at Avenue L and 42nd Street West, Shreves said.

Cunningham, who told deputies that he is self-employed and lives in Castaic, called state Department of Forestry firefighters to report the first and second fires, claiming that he had stomped out the flames and spotted a suspicious vehicle nearby, Shreves said.

But deputies who interviewed him about 4 a.m. became suspicious because of his nervousness, numerous inconsistencies in his story and the proximity of the last fire to the house, Shreves said.

“One of the problems was that he happened to take the same path as these fires and they were not on a straight line,” Shreves said. “They thought it was more than coincidence.”

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Further investigation showed that Cunningham’s footprints matched footprints at the scene of one of the fires, Shreves said. Cunningham was being held at the Antelope Valley sheriff’s station on $5,000 bond.


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