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Investigators Believe Lake Fire May Have Been Intentionally Set; Flames Spread To 36 Square Miles

SAN BERNARDINO ( — Sources told CBS2's Tom Wait Thursday that they believed the out-of-control Lake Fire might have been intentionally set.

Meanwhile, officials say air tankers temporarily grounded for safety reasons have resumed flight over the massive forest fire near Big Bear Lake.

A hobbyist's drone was spotted Wednesday night over flames at practically the same altitude as the firefighting aircraft.

Mike Eaton of the U.S. Forest Service said one of the drones was "breaking the law for our air space and model aircraft, which is what this is, are regulated to only 400 or 500 feet off the ground."

The 4-foot-wide drone forced fire officials to ground three aircraft, including a DC-10 carrying nearly 11,00 gallons of retardant, for three hours. They worried that the drone would act like a metal bird, getting sucked into a plane's engine and causing it to crash.

Firefighters on the ground depend on timed and coordinated airdrop. Officials say turning planes away at the last minute left those troops in harm's way: "You take that ability to slow that fire down out of it and we actually have to move the troops out of the way because it would  be like a freight train coming their way."

Officials have not located the drone's operator. They stressed to the public that they're unable to fight the fire with this kind of interference and that lives are at stake.

Wait spoke to some nearby residents who have not yet decided whether to stay or flee.

"I'm blessed that I can think of whether to evacuate," said Margaret Mary Salazar, "I'm at that border where I'm going to stay until the end."

Her next-door neighbors have horses so they were definitely packing up to go. Just in case.

"I'm nervous," said Mary Lou Quirk, "I'm stressed because I've been living with this for a week. The smoke is kind of getting to me."

Sources told Wait that investigators are looking into the possibility the fire was deliberately set. Investigators told him they didn't have definitive proof of arson, but all other causes have been ruled out.

The blaze about 90 miles east of Los Angeles has charred 36 square miles of timber and brush since June 17. As of Thursday, it was only 21 percent contained. Officials say they suspect it will continue to burn into July.

Mandatory evacuations were called Thursday for the following areas:

  • Highway 38 in Angelus Oaks
  • Barton Flats
  • Seven Oaks
  • Rainbow Lane
  • Heart Bar
  • Rim Rock
  • Burns Canyon



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