A 48-year-old Banning man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony charges accusing him of setting nine Inland Empire fires, including the 534-acre Mills Fire that destroyed two homes last summer.
Steven Taylor Rutherford entered his plea at the Riverside Hall of Justice after a criminal grand jury indictment was unsealed revealing 13 felony counts of arson, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Rutherford, who faces about 80 years in prison, was arrested in June, on the same day the Mills Fire began to burn in the Mentone area of San Bernardino County, authorities said last year.
Surveillance video and GPS trackers on his vehicles led arson investigators to arrest him, authorities said.
Before the Mills Fire, he allegedly set eight other fires that were listed by the DA’s office in a news release:
- Sept. 6, 2011: Twin Fire, Highway 243 at Twin Pines Road, about 5 acres
- Sept. 7, 2011: Banning Fire, Highway 243, north of Mount Edna Road, about 55 acres
- Sept. 11, 2011: Summit Fire, Highway 74 at Mile Marker 55, about 2 acres
- Sept. 11, 2011: Lambs Fire, Gilman Springs Road, east of Sanderson, about 35 acres
- Oct. 22, 2011: Water Fire, Whitewater Canyon, north of the 15 Freeway, about 20 acres
- Oct. 22, 2011: Free Fire, Mt. Edna Road, west of Highway 243, about 10 acres
- Sept. 9, 2012: Edna Fire, Highway 243, south of Wesley Street, about 4 acres
- June 28, 2013: Smith Fire, Highway 243, south of Banning near Mile Post 28, about 5 acres
Twenty-eight witnesses testified during grand jury proceedings, according to the DA’s office.
Rutherford was charged with enhancements that include using a delayed ignition device and having a prior arson conviction for a 1989 fire in Riverside County.
Rutherford was being held in the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta. He was due in court again on March 11, and trial was set for April 9.