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Monday, May 8, 2017

Suspected arsonist arrested in series of Highway 18 fires


One of three spot fires just below the Crestline Bride set by an alleged arsonist on Monday evening, May 1. (Photo courtesy of San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department)

Sunday, May 07, 2017
By Douglas W. Motley

A 27-year-old Cedar Glen man was taken into custody late Monday in connection with three arson fires that broke out around 8:07 p.m. Monday, May 1. The three spot fires, reportedly ignited by a flare gun, burned approximately seven acres of dense brush alongside Highway 18 just below the Crestline Bridge.
According to a news release from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station, multiple witnesses reported a male subject, later identified as Benjamin Andrew Baptiste, attempting to start a fire just below the Highway 138 cut off below Crestline. Numerous 911 calls from motorists were received reporting Baptiste was armed with a firearm and carrying an axe. Baptiste also was reported to be throwing rocks at a passing vehicle.
Baptiste reportedly ran down the highway, fled over the side and headed down toward Lower Bonnie Canyon, below the highway, where he lit an additional fire in dense brush below the highway. Highway 18 was closed to all traffic from the Cliffhanger to Sierra Way for several hours while law enforcement officers scoured the area for the suspected arsonist’s whereabouts.
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, CHP, San Bernardino Police Department, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service, along with K9s from the Sheriff’s Department and Montclair Police Department, participated in the search. A perimeter was established as Sheriff’s and CHP helicopters used FLIR thermal imaging systems to search for the suspect in the dense brush.
Baptiste was subsequently located on the side of the highway near Mormon Road around 10:22 p.m. and taken into custody without incident. He was treated by paramedics for multiple lacerations from the brush and burns to his hands and arms and then transported to the Sheriff’s West Valley Detention Center, where he was booked on multiple counts of arson.
According to scanner reports, progress on containing the blazes was slow due to difficulty in accessing the rugged terrain where the fires were burning. At least a dozen fire engines from Cal Fire, U.S. Forest Service and County Fire, assisted by a hand crew from Glen Helen, worked throughout the night and early morning hours to gain control of flare-ups that kept occurring in perimeter areas.
The Sheriff’s Department is requesting that anyone who may have witnessed the suspect or who have any other information regarding the investigation to contact Deputy Brian Butts at the Twin Peaks Sheriff ‘s Station at (909) 336-0600.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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