Cranston Fire: Alleged Arsonist Held on $3.5 Million Bail. New Evacuation Centers Open

The scene from outside the Idyllwild Arts Academy library shortly after the fire broke out Wednesday (LAist)

The Cranston Fire is now at 12,300 acres and is 16% contained, according to the latest information released by fire officials.

The sign of some progress in the fire that began burning midday Wednesday came on the same day Brandon McGlover pleaded not guilty to arson charges in court. Prosecutor allege that he started the Cranston Fire and eight others in recent days.

John Hall, a spokesman for the Riverside County District Atty. said they had "nothing specific" yet on possible motivation. He called the case unusual.

"It's a continuing crime," Hall said, "because if anything else should happen — the damage increases, if there's any injuries, etc. — then we can amend the complaint, add additional charges."

Brandon McGlover appears in court Friday where he pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of felony arson (Courtesy of Riverside County DA)

The Cranston Fire, the largest of those allegedly set by McGlover, had spread to about 11,500 acres by Friday morning and injured two firefighters. Fire officials said containment stood at 3 percent and thousands of people remained under evacuation orders.

So far, prosecutors have charged McGlover with 15 counts of felony arson. If convicted, it's possible he could be sentenced to life in prison. His bail is now set at $3.5 million, with the next court date scheduled for Sept. 21.

After the hearing, McGlover's attorney declined to answer questions about how his client is doing. The 32-year-old man was taken into custody just hours after the Cranston Fire began on Wednesday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the first responders that are battling these fires right now and the families that are affected by them," Joseph Camarata, an attorney speaking on behalf of McGlover and his family.

Camarata also said that hoped that "if these fires were intentionally started" authorities were able to find the person responsible "so this does not happen again."

The scene at Idyllwild Arts Academy minutes before students were evacuated as the Cranston Fire burned Wednesday. (LAist)

HISTORIC SCHOOL THREATENED

On the day the Cranston Fire sparked, students at Idyllwild Arts Academy were eating lunch when flames appeared in the sky.

They already knew fire was a danger for the remote mountain campus which got its start in the late 1940s. When students arrived this summer for classes, staff searched bags to make sure they had nothing with them that could start a fire.

That danger became very real on Wednesday. As the sky turned red, staff quickly mobilized to evacuate students, loading people and, in some cases, large instruments, into cars and heading to Banning High School.

Crystina Justice picked up her 9-year-old daughter from the high school. The dance student, still in her leotard and tights, was only on day three of what was supposed to be a weeklong camp.

Justice said she'd watched the fire form over the mountain.

"Of course, it is scary knowing they had to drive down in an emergency situation," she said, "but I had a lot of trust in the staff up there, that they would do everything efficiently and safely as possible."

Then came the wait: Would the acclaimed arts school make it through the fire? Conditions in Idyllwild were ripe for disaster — the town had not seen a significant fire at least since the 1880s, the start of recorded fire history in the region.

So far, so good.

A map of the fire perimeter released Friday shows the town of Idyllwild (in gray in the top center) largely unscathed. (InciWeb)

According to a recent update to the arts school's website, all students, faculty, and staff were safely evacuated, and "there has been no loss of school property on campus."

That update indicates that the summer programs will continue once emergency crews give the OK. At least as of now, officials at the residential arts high school said in the statement that they plan to begin classes for the academic year in late August, as planned.

THOUSANDS STILL EVACUATED

Idyllwild Arts' summer students are among thousands of people who remain under evacuation orders.

While firefighters appear to have been able to keep the fire out of Idyllwild's main core, residents say it has been nervewracking.

"My heart hurts a lot," said Lori Brookes, who just recently moved to the town. "I'm trying really hard just to keep my energy towards positive thoughts, toward the firefighters and all the people who are still up in my new community."

Early Friday, the sun rose over Banning High, the sky glowing light orange and filled with smoke. The evacuation center had as many as 500 evacuees in the hours after the fire first began Wednesday, including many children going to camps in the area. Overnight Thursday, 43 people spent the night.

To make shelters and resources more accessible to residents on all sides of the fire, Riverside County officials were also opening shelters at Palm Desert High School and Hamilton High School.

Officials and firefighters are gearing up for another hot, dry day. According to South Coast Air Quality Management District, the air quality could reach unhealthy levels in Riverside County and in the Coachella Valley. That was noticeable at Banning High, where the air was heavy with smoke and what appeared to be ash was visible on some surfaces.

Fire officials said the fire maintained its size overnight, but conditions are expected to change.

"We expect intense fire behavior today, and we hope that the resources we have can keep the fire in the footprint," said Chad Cook, operations section chief with California Incident Team One, in a Friday morning update.

Firefighters on Thursday watch from the Lake Hemet Campground near the incident command post for the Cranston Fire as flames crawl over Baldy Mountain. (Kyle Stokes / LAist)

The evacuations cover a wide area, taking in Mountain Center, Idyllwild, Hurkey Creek, San Jacinto Mountain State Park, Fern Valley, Pine Cove, Cedar Glen and the northern section of Garner Valley, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

About 4,400 structures are under threat and some 9,000 people are without power, most who live in the evacuated areas.

Nearly 1,400 firefighters are fighting the blaze. The U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman said one of the firefighters hurt his shoulder and the other suffered a heat injury, but their conditions were not immediately available.

UPDATES:

9 p.m.: This article updated with new information about the fire's size.

3:17 p.m.: This article updated with information about McGlover's arraignment.

1 p.m.: This article updated with quotes from a mother who picked up her child and a new resident of Idyllwild.

This story originally published at 11:40 a.m.

KPCC's Take Two radio show contributed to this report.

GET MORE DETAILS ON THE FIRE: Here's What We Know About The Cranston Fire Burning Near Idyllwild


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