Fire focus shifts to arson probe

Times Staff Writer

The Windy Ridge fire, which burned tinder-dry areas of Anaheim Hills and Orange, causing relatively minor damage, was contained Tuesday, but arson investigators continued their search for the perpetrators they think started the blaze by torching a stolen car.

Capt. Stephen Miller, Orange County Fire Authority spokesman, said the fire was 100% contained at noon but that full control was not expected until 6 tonight when firefighters expect to extinguish all hot spots. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the blaze, and another’s injuries were listed as moderate, Miller said.

The fire -- kindled by dry chaparral and a mixture of high temperatures, low humidity and Santa Ana winds -- burned 2,036 acres and threatened dozens of multimillion-dollar homes on ridges overlooking rugged canyons. But an aggressive counterattack by more than 800 firefighters pushed back the flames, which caused moderate damage to one home and destroyed two outbuildings, Miller said.


Investigators continued looking for whoever burned a stolen 2004 Honda Civic that started the blaze shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday. Sgt. Rick Martinez, Anaheim police spokesman, said investigators think more than one individual was involved, because whoever rolled the car off the 241 toll road near the Windy Ridge toll plaza was probably driven away in another vehicle.

The car was reported stolen Feb. 9 in Riverside during a house burglary, said Riverside police spokesman Steve Frasher. The homeowners were on vacation and left a set of keys in the house, he said.

About two weeks later, the license plates were taken from a 2005 Honda in Riverside and transferred to the stolen car. Anaheim police showed the car to reporters Tuesday, and one of the stolen plates was lying in the back.

The vehicle was a burned hulk; it was impossible to tell what color it had been. The windows had either melted or exploded in the heat. The interior was gutted, the seats burned away. All that remained of the tires were their steel belts, which wrapped around the rims like shiny bracelets.

Riverside and Anaheim police officials said they had no information that the stolen car was used in other crimes.

Miller said more than 1,200 residents were evacuated from their homes Sunday as firefighters set up fire lines, but most were allowed to return that night.

A wildfire flared briefly Tuesday afternoon south of Sunday’s fire, scorching about 4 acres along southbound Interstate 5 near Oso Parkway in Mission Viejo. As black smoke wafted across the freeway, some lanes were closed, causing traffic to back up. The fire was quickly contained. Its cause is under investigation, authorities said.