The district attorney’s office of Riverside County filed criminal charges against Patrick Frazee, saying he told authorities he unintentionally started a 15,000-acre inferno which destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands to evacuate.
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Authorities said Friday that Frazee, 29, of Twin Peaks, a suburb of Los Angeles, admitted that he disregarded “do-not-use” regulations after a spark from a fireworks ignited embers on his property. The blaze, which was under control on Friday, destroyed 58 homes and a hotel.
In a statement, the Riverside County district attorney, Mike Hestrin, said Frazee had “admitted to intentionally igniting a fire in order to get attention and confront his ex-girlfriend about the fire,” an apparent reference to Amber Finney, whose home was spared by the flames. Frazee, a hunter and boxer, turned a shotgun he and Finney had given each other into a machine gun, Hestrin added.
Hestrin said Frazee’s account to authorities was bolstered by “piles of evidence found at the scene”, including a photograph showing him turning the pistol, which holds up to nine bullets, into a gun. Authorities also recovered a switchblade, fishing line and two apple knives.
Frazee is charged with six felony counts, including arson and possessing a firearm and explosives while under consideration for parole. He was detained at the scene and an investigation by the National Park Service is ongoing.
Following Friday’s incident, the Lake Elsinore Wildland Fire Protection District board declared a “public safety emergency”. Only properties west of Interstate 15 remained under evacuation orders as of Friday night.
The story has once again evoked comparisons to the so-called Zodiac Killer, who terrorized California in the early 1970s with the murders of four people and a girl who went missing. After police named the serial killer as a writer Robert Chambers, many claimed the slayings were motivated by personal grievances. Chambers killed himself in jail three days after being arrested.
The LA Times reported that Hestrin said another view is “maybe there are serial killers who think they can find material through this fire”.
Frazee’s lawyer, Jay Mulvihill, declined to comment on Monday. An arraignment has been scheduled for Thursday.