Banning man, convicted of arson 25 years ago, charged in nine fires

A San Bernardino firefighter at the Mills fire in June 2013
A convicted arsonist has been charged with setting several fires in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in recent years. Above, the Mills fire in June 2013.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A convicted arsonist has been indicted on 13 felony arson counts for allegedly setting fires that burned hundreds of acres in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including one last year that damaged two homes, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Steven Taylor Rutherford, who has previously been convicted of arson, faces charges that stem from nine fires he accused of setting, including the massive Mills fire in June that scorched 534 acres and damaged four properties, according to a statement from the Riverside County district attorney’s office.

The Mills fire — by far, the largest blaze — was in Mentone, in San Bernardino County. The rest, which took place from September 2011, to June of last year, were in Riverside County. Authorities agreed the Riverside County district attorney’s office would prosecute Rutherford.

Rutherford, 48, of Banning was arraigned Tuesday after grand jury indictment was unsealed, and his trial is expected to begin in April. He had been convicted of arson in 1989 in Riverside County.

Several of the fires he is accused of setting were along Highway 243, including one, just north of Mt. Edna Road, that burned 55 acres. One fire, near San Jacinto, burned about 35 acres, and another fire, near the 15 freeway, burned 20 acres. The other fires burned two to 10 acres.

Rutherford was arrested June 28, the same day he is accused of starting the Mills Fire and another fire near Banning that burned about five acres, prosecutors said. The arrest came after an investigation by Cal Fire in which he was linked to previous blazes through surveillance footage and what prosecutors described as “legally placed” GPS trackers on his vehicles.

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