portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

forest defense | save the biscuit

Wildfire Suspect Charged With Arson, Murder

I smell a patsy. What is undeniable to anyone with a hint of intelligence, integrity, and an awareness of the pattern of arsons in our national forests, a pattern that asserted itself with authority in the wake of the salvage rider (allowing timber companies to benefit hugely from burnt, sometimes healthy trees), is that there is a coordinated, albeit perhaps loosely, effort to maintain a salvage logging profit for these companies. What you can pretty much count on is that the investigation of Raymond Oyler will not lead to any such thing, which is why I call him a patsy.
The Salvage Rider of 1995

Rampant Arson in Nat'l Forests a Boon for Timber Industry
 link to justanotherblowback.blogspot.com

 link to justanotherblowback.blogspot.com

Wildfire Suspect Charged With Arson, Murder

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (Nov. 3) - As families planned funerals for five firefighters killed by a wind-swept wildfire a week ago, authorities marched a suspect into a courtroom to charge him with murder and arson - crimes that carry a possible death sentence.

Friends and family of the fallen firefighters said news of the arrest brought some relief.

"This arrest really does help with some of the closure, the healing that we in the Forest Service community, and in the families, need," said Jeanne Wade Evans, the San Bernardino National Forest supervisor.

The first in a series of funerals was planned for Friday.

Raymond Lee Oyler was charged Thursday with five counts of murder, 11 counts of arson and 10 counts of use of an incendiary device. The charges include seven fires in June, one in July, one in September and two in October.

Last week's blaze was the deadliest for firefighters since July 1994, when 14 were killed near Glenwood Springs, Colo., according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In a jailhouse interview, Oyler told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside he had "no idea why they came to me."

"All I know is I didn't do this and they're trying to pin this on me," Oyler said, adding that he was home with his baby girl when the fire broke out. "They need to find the real person."

District Attorney-elect Rod Pacheco said the evidence against Oyler was "overwhelming," but he did not disclose a motive and would not say what led investigators to Oyler.

The 36-year-old auto mechanic with tattoos on his neck and forearms appeared in court in handcuffs and a jail jumpsuit as his attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Oyler "adamantly denies involvement in this fire and in any of these fires," attorney Mark McDonald said outside court. "He's very distraught and scared ... The finger is pointing at him."

Oyler, who said nothing during the brief hearing, was held without bail.

Authorities were trying to determine whether Oyler has any links to at least 40 fires in the area since May, according to an official involved in the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is continuing.

Investigators were also looking at a 1998 fire in which the pilot of a firefighting aircraft died in a crash. That blaze burned more than 24,000 acres in the San Jacinto Mountains and had a burn pattern similar to last week's fire, the official said.

The charges are punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Prosecutors will decide in the next 60 days which sentence to seek.

"The feelings of the surviving family members of the victims will be consulted and be given great weight by our office in what is always a difficult decision," Pacheco said.

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Oyler's mother said she had no comment.

Last week's fire was stoked by Santa Ana winds as it swept southwest through the San Jacinto Mountains about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. The flames overran the fire crew, destroyed 34 homes and charred more than 60 square miles before being contained Monday.

Three firefighters died at the scene, and a fourth died soon after at a hospital. A fifth was taken off life support and died this week.

A funeral service was planned Friday for Jason McKay, 27, of Apple Valley.

McKay, whose family moved to the Victorville area from Minnesota when he was a boy, worked for the U.S. Forest Service for five years and was the assistant engine operator on the Engine 57 crew.

"He loved being a firefighter," Staci Burger, McKay's fiance, told the Riverside Press Enterprise. "It was what he wanted to do since he was born."

Funeral services were also scheduled over the next several days for firefighters Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont; Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto; Mark Loutzenhiser, 43, of Idyllwild; and Pablo Cerda, 23, of Fountain Valley.

A public memorial service was planned for Sunday.