Detectives Seek Transient in California Fire Investigation

By Thomas Watkins | October 14, 2009

Homicide detectives investigating a deadly wildfire that ravaged much of Angeles National Forest said they are looking for a transient suspected of starting a smaller fire several miles away.

Babatunsin Olukunle, 25, has not been linked to the massive Station Fire that burned northeast of Los Angeles, but detectives want to question him about that blaze, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Liam Gallagher.

Olukunle was spotted at the site of a smaller fire that burned a small patch of brush six days before the Station Fire broke out Aug. 26. The Station Fire destroyed 89 homes, burned 250 square miles and killed two firefighters when their truck plunged off a mountain road.

The smaller fire was extinguished by U.S. Forest Service workers who reported seeing Olukunle walking into the forest and away from the fire. They asked him to stay put while they tackled the blaze but after quickly extinguishing it, he had gone, Gallagher said.

Authorities declined to comment on how the two fires had started, except to say both were the result of arson. Gallagher said the smaller fire had burned an area of brush about the size of a small tabletop, but it was not a traditional campfire surrounded by rocks and he was not aware of any cooking utensils being found.

“The fact that he was seen at a fire that had been started six days before and six miles up the road is something that caught our attention and something we need to talk to him about,” Gallagher said.

Olukunle, who dropped out of the University of California, Davis, in 2007, is articulate and has an accent, Gallagher said. He was last seen in the Lancaster area about a week ago, when he walked into a Social Security office. No arrest warrant has been issued.

Olukunle may have been sleeping in the national forest for about four months.

His family emigrated from Nigeria in 1999, Gallagher said, and it wasn’t immediately known why Olukunle had taken to the streets after leaving college.

“He came back from summer break, was acting strangely and just took off and never came back,” Gallagher said.

Olukunle’s only arrest was for illegal camping, authorities said.

Topics California Wildfire A.J. Gallagher

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