Friday, June 29, 2007

CAL FIRE news: South Valley: Drug bust leads to arrest in six arsons

FresnoBee.com:

WOODLAKE -- Police believe they have caught an arsonist responsible for six recent wildland fires near Woodlake in an investigation sparked by a search warrant for alleged drug dealing.

State forestry and Woodlake police officials announced Thursday that Woodlake resident Humberto Gonzalez, 26, was arrested in connection with six arsons: on June 19, June 20 and June 21, 2006, and May 22, May 27 and June 10 of this year.

Gonzalez was being held at a Tulare County jail on $95,000 bail, Woodlake Police Chief John Zapalac said.

The investigation leading to Gonzalez's arrest started June 12 with a search warrant for drugs at a home in the 300 block of south Magnolia Street carried out by officers from several agencies, Zapalac said.

Officers found methamphetamine and paraphernalia related to the sale and use of the drug, along with a silencer for a gun, Zapalac said. Gonzalez was arrested along with his brother, 27-year-old Gonzalo Gonzalez.

During the search, law enforcement officials found suspicious items that prompted Woodlake police to notify California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials about what they found.

Cal Fire officials served another warrant June 16, and further investigation linked Humberto Gonzalez to the six fires, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Paul Marquez said.

Marquez said the fires burned mainly small amounts of grass in the Woodlake and Elderwood areas, although one scorched 80 acres. No structures were damaged, and no one was injured in any of the blazes.

But he said the fires could have been much more serious if fire crews hadn't quickly snuffed them out.

"There's a high fire danger in the wildland areas," Marquez said. "The lack of rain this winter means feed grass for cattle is very valuable."

A monetary loss for the burned areas wasn't available Thursday.

The Tulare County District Attorney's office hadn't made a decision Thursday on whether to file arson charges against Gonzalez, but a decision on the matter was expected by today, Assistant District Attorney Don Gallian said.

Gonzalez already faces charges of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia and maintaining a home for drug sales, Gallian said. His brother faces a charge of being under the influence of drugs.

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