152. Police Arrest Fire-Starters

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Police arrested five young men for setting the Malibu Canyon fire that recently destroyed 53 homes, resulted in the temporary evacuation of 12,000 people, and burned 5,000 acres of woodland. The fire began in a small public park that prohibited alcohol and fires. The men, with seven friends, were drinking beer and wine; a campfire helped keep them warm that chilly, windy evening. They were roasting hotdogs and marshmallows on the campfire.

Firemen and deputy sheriffs searched the park afterward, and found some food, food packages, empty bottles and cans, and even a few receipts. The deputy sheriffs went to Ralphs, the local supermarket that the receipts came from. The assistant manager was there the night the food and booze were sold.

"Oh, yes, I remember them very well," he said. The men were regular customers, who showed up at least once a month on Friday or Saturday night. They usually bought firewood, food, and alcohol, often with a credit card. He wondered if they might be using the firewood in a prohibited area, but he never said anything about it. "They seemed like intelligent people," he told a deputy sheriff.

At a televised news conference, County Sheriff Lee Baca announced the arrests. However, at least one homeowner was still bitter. "That's good detective work, but so what?" asked Martha Knapp. "These arrests aren't going to rebuild our homes or diminish our misery. These guys are young, half of their income for the rest of their lives should go toward paying for our losses. But that will never happen. I wish they had all been in my home when it burnt down. I would have enjoyed kicking their dead bodies."

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