After nine separate fires sparked in widely different locations and times around the county, questions are being raised about what caused the brush fires that burned more than 9,000 acres around San Diego this week.
Some may have thought the mystery was solved Thursday afternoon when Escondido police questioned a man after getting calls about some suspicious behaviour near Stone Brewery. Police officials in the city quickly dispelled that theory, though, after officers and arson investigators "absolutely ruled out" any connection the man may have had to any of the fires.
The news of additional brush fires in North County was a bewildering experience to wake up to on Wednesday for residents already concerned about the status of the Bernardo Fire, which sparked on Tuesday and burned hundreds of acres but, improbably, no homes. That good news, and still more about firefighters having contained 25 percent of that blaze, soon gave way upon learning of fires in Carlsbad, Bonsall/Fallbrook and on Camp Pendleton. As the day progressed, officials announced that a small fire had started in Escondido, then another in Scripps Ranch. Thankfully, both of those were quickly extinguished.
If residents didn’t have suspicions already, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn raised the spectre of an arsonist at work while delivering a statement at a news conference on Wednesday evening in Carlsbad.
"I question whether or not six fires haven’t been set by somebody – that’s just my thought, but I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years, and I’ve had one or two fires but never anything like this," Horn said.
Shortly after, Horn was asked to follow up on his statement.
"I’ve been through the Witch Creek Fire … the Cedar Fire," Horn said. "Those were big fires, but they were all connected. If you notice, all these are separate [pointing]. First we started with this one [pointing], then we went to Camp Pendleton – it didn’t start in the middle of the base; it started at the ammo dump on the Fallbrook side. And then we went to the freeway fire, and that’s where [state Route 76] and [Interstate] 15 come together.… I guess we now have [a fire near Lakeside]. So that brings us to [seven]. So that’s an issue for me."
However, Horn soon added that his speculation was just that.
"I have no evidence," Horn said. "I’ve been on this fire all day, I’ve been in Fallbrook and I’ve been in San Marcos, so that is the extent. I’m just telling you what I’m thinking."
Horn was not alone in his conjecture, however, and by Thursday morning, the Carlsbad Police Department had set up a hotline for tips on what is now being called the Poinsettia Fire, which charred 400 acres, and destroyed four homes and a condominium complex made up of 18 units. Anybody with information about suspicious activity was being urged to call 760-602-7599 or email PoinsettiaFire@carlsbadca.gov. Later on Thursday, San Diego Fire Rescue urged anybody with "tips, suspect information or relevant fire information" to call San Diego Crime Stoppers at 619-235-TIPS (8477). Authorities said a reward may be offered for information that leads to a conviction.
On Thursday afternoon, Escondido police officers detained a possible arson suspect for questioning after reports of "suspicious behavior."
However, that person was released after questioning and did not appear to have any connection to the fires, officials said.