A man convicted of setting the Old Fire -- one of the most devastating wildfires in California history, which contributed to the deaths of several area residents -- was sentenced to receive the death penalty today, according to San Bernardino County District Attorney officials.
Rickie Lee Fowler 31, was found guilty on Aug. 15, 2012, of five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson in connection with the fire. He faced a San Bernardino County Superior court judge to hear his fate Monday, DA Officials said.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch prosecuted the case.
The fire, sparked in 2003, burned more than 90,000 acres, damaged 1,003 homes and led to the deaths of residents Charles Howard Cunningham, 93, James William McDermith, 70, Chad Leo Williams, 70, Robert Norman Taylor, 54 and Ralph Eugene McWilliams, 67.
The blaze reportedly started over a drug related argument. Authorities say Fowler threw flares into the tall dry brush near Old Waterman Canyon Road, igniting them. The brush went up in an instant and quickly moved toward homes.
Fire crews from Loma Linda and Redlands joined thousands of firefighters from around the region in the massive firefight that followed. Crews had already been battling the Grand Prix Fire, also in the San Bernardino National Forest. above Claremont, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga.
The fires would eventually burn into each other becoming one massive blaze.
Fowler’s conviction comes nearly 10 years after the fire swept through the mountain communities forcing everyone into the “flatlands” including into San Bernardino, Loma Linda and Redlands.
“Today, after nearly ten years, justice has now been secured for the victims and their families, and those whose lives were affected by the actions of Rickie Lee Fowler,” District Attorney Michael Ramos said in a written statement.