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Forest Officials Suspect Arson in Fire That Burned 1,350 Acres

Federal authorities are seeking links from the Johnson Bridge blaze to others in the area. Highway 330 remains closed.

September 09, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Fire investigators on Monday continued searching for the cause of a wildfire that burned 1,350 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest and forced the evacuation of 1,000 mountain residents.

Forest officials suspect arson and said several suspicious fires, all of which were quickly extinguished, have been set nearby.

However, the origin of the fire, which started near Johnson Bridge in City Creek near Highway 330, remains unknown.

"The pattern is that there is no pattern," said Mike Dietrich, San Bernardino National Forest fire management officer.

The Johnson Bridge fire, which began Friday afternoon and was said to be 40% contained Monday, has significantly heightened awareness of the forest's vulnerability to fire due to a massive bark beetle infestation that has killed thousands of trees weakened by the four-year drought.

Three arson investigators from the U.S. Forest Service inspected the fire's point of origin Monday, spokeswoman Tricia Abbas said.

Highway 330 will be closed at least through Tuesday.

Dietrich said though lightning has been ruled out as a cause, investigators cannot immediately connect the Johnson Bridge fire to the string of smaller arson-suspected fires, which tended to start in locations far from fire stations.

Johnson Bridge is near the U.S. Forest Service's City Creek Fire Station.

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