SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - A 23-year-old man, who was once part of a fire department explorer program, has been charged with multiple counts of arson in connection with eight different fires in San Bernardino County.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office filed the charges against Jarrod Anthony Samra, of Highland, on Monday. The charges included eight counts of arson and one count of causing great bodily injury. That last charge has to do with a Cal Fire firefighter who suffered a broken leg while fighting one of those blazes.
"At one point in time, he was a fire explorer but aged out of the program at age 21 and has not been involved in any fire agencies since," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said of the suspect at a news conference.
One of the largest fires Samra allegedly set was the Bridge Fire, which burned approximately 460 acres last month.
Officials picked up on the thought that they were dealing with an arsonist early on in the investigation. Officials said all the fires started near the road, they all ignited around the same time and evidence was found at all the locations indicating arson.
Fire officials said they had the suspect's name already on their radar, and they were gearing up to serve a search warrant when the Bryant Fire broke out last Thursday in Yucaipa. Sure enough, authorities found Samra and his car near the scene and detained him.
After interviewing the suspect and serving multiple search warrants, investigators arrested Samra.
"I need to tell you, San Bernardino County fire agencies take arson personally," San Bernardino County Fire Department Chief Mark Hartwig said at the news conference. "I personally find it unbelievable that anyone would intentionally inflict the kind of indiscriminate death and destruction caused by wildfire."
Authorities said they were able to spot Samra as a suspect with the help of automated license plate readers, which were placed near the scenes of the fires. Samra's license plate appeared on multiple occasions around the times the blazes were set, officials said.
Samra made his first court appearance Monday afternoon. The judge entered a plea of not guilty. If convicted, Samra faces a maximum sentence of 19 years in state prison.