A Yucaipa man was charged with nine felony counts of arson on Monday in connection with at least eight fires spanning over 900 acres — including one that seriously injured a firefighter, the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office said Monday.
Jarrod Samra, 23, was charged with one count of arson causing great bodily injury and eight counts of arson of a structure of a forest in connection with the fires, the DA's office said.
Samra was formerly a member of the county fire department's Fire Explorer program, which introduces youth to the firefighting profession, and had most recently been working at a construction company for the past six months, officials confirmed during a Monday news conference.
If convicted, he could face up to 19 years in prison, the DA's office said.
Samra was arrested on Aug. 3 when a vehicle he was driving was found in the area where the Bryant Fire on the 38 Freeway had originated, prosecutors said.
But Samra was already a suspect before that fire, as investigators found "multiple pieces of evidence even prior to that" tying him to the string of wildfires in recent weeks, including one in which a firefighter broke his leg, District Attorney Mike Ramos said during the news conference.
The eight fires took place during similar times of day and all were near roadways, officials said at the conference, leading them to investigate the possibility the wildfires were related. Officials also confirmed there was evidence found at each of the fires that was similar, but wouldn't specify what that evidence was.
Investigators also looked at social media postings by Samra and traced the license plates on his vehicle once he became a person of interest in the case, officials. said.
Given the county's history of tragic wildfires — such as the Old Fire in 2003 that left six people dead and 975 buildings destroyed — San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said he takes cases of arson "personally."
"I personally find it unbelievable that anyone would intentionally inflict the kind of indiscriminate death and destruction cause by wildfires," Hartwig said during the news conference.
The case will be handed to "a top prosecutor" in the DA's office who has experience prosecuting arson crimes, Ramos said at the conference.
"This arsonist will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Ramos said in a news release. "The history of fires in our county and the destruction they have caused to human life and property is absolutely tragic."