FALLBROOK — "Why did they do it, mommy?" a child asked as his mother pointed toward the black rubble, all that remains of the San Diego County library here.
An 18-year-old unemployed man has confessed to setting the fire early Monday that gutted the library and reduced 30,000 books and close to $900,000 worth of property to ashes, arson investigators with the Sheriff's Department said.
Darryle Ray Mick, a former Fallbrook High School student who was recently fired from his job at a North County convalescent home, was arrested on a street near the scene of the fire a few hours after it broke out, Sgt. C.A. Grayson of the arson team said.
Mick admitted he started the library fire and confessed to starting two other minor blazes and vandalizing two banks, Grayson said. Mick will be arraigned Wednesday.
Witnesses saw Mick watching the fire, Grayson said. He declined to give details about the confession but added: "He was frightened because of what was going to happen to him."
Grayson described Mick as an unemployed former "dishwasher-handyman type" at a North County convalescent home who was recently depressed about being fired from his job.
Mick's bail has been set at $30,000, Grayson said.
The blaze leaves this North County community without a library, shocking many residents--especially the elderly--who went there regularly to keep up their reading. Now the nearest library is in Vista, 15 miles away.
Also lost to the flames were a display of Easter eggs from around the world, Fallbrook historical mementos and a microfilm record of local settlers.
"I've been numbed. I've cried," Phyllis Steele, membership head of the Fallbrook Friends of the Library, said. "I told my husband I wanted to come here and get angry--that's my therapy."
Officials dispatched one of the county's 34 bookmobiles to the site of the library, one of 34 such county facilities.
The bookmobile--which holds hundreds of books, shelves of magazines and a small number of videocassettes--will be stationed in the library parking lot from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays until further notice, county library spokeswoman Nancy St. John said.
Although the library was insured, St. John said, she didn't know exactly how much of the loss the insurance policy will cover. She said she expects a new library will eventually be built in Fallbrook.
Rose Castro, li brary director for five years, vowed to reopen the facility.
"We lost the Easter eggs, a stained glass collection, materials from the local historical society, a complete collection of Shakespeare's works on audio tape," she said. "It's all gone."
Her lips stiffened. "We'll have a bigger and better library. We can't let these kinds of people (arsonists) get us down."
On Monday morning, stunned Fallbrook residents began gathering outside the black skeleton at 124 Mission Road.
One elderly man brought a box of books about business management and suggested that they be sold to build a new library.
Bill Sparks, another library volunteer, lugged boxes of books out of sheds behind the library. He examined them to determine whether they could be sold to raise funds for a new facility. Many had been burned to cinders; some were damaged by water used by firefighters; quite a few appeared salvageable.
Visible through a hole in one box was David Niven's grinning face on the cover of his autobiography, "The Moon's a Balloon." Next to it were paperback cowboys defending the frontier and science-fiction astronauts conquering the universe.
"This library is local people's pride and joy," Sparks, a retiree, said, wiping his sweaty face and raising his U.S. Marine Corps cap. "I phoned one lady to tell her about it and she thought it was an April Fool's joke. I said, 'No, you come down here and look.' When I saw it, it was horrible. I heard it was lit up like daylight.
"A lot of people came here every day. A part of their daily routine was the Fallbrook library. We lost a lot of beautiful books. People who had passed away had donated books--saying things like, 'This book is in memory of so and so.' It was fun being a volunteer; most of us are retired senior citizens, but we've got a lot of pizazz."
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries--"one smoke inhalation and a couple of blisters"--fighting the library blaze, Grayson said.
Grayson estimated the loss at $350,000 for the structure and $500,000 for the contents.
Smoke was still curling from the ruin Monday afternoon. Occasionally a child would shout, "There's another one," and Grayson would examine, and extinguish, a still-smoldering ember that had begun gushing smoke from beneath the cinders.
"When I heard about it, I just felt sick," 67-year-old Winton Ross, a volunteer library worker, said.