Mill Fire on Friday June 28 that ripped through the Mentone-Yucaipa area, pleaded not guilty to all counts Wednesday afternoon in Riverside Superior Court.Update 2:44 p.m. July 3 A Banning man who is charged with 13 felony counts of arson in connection with nine fires, including the
Steven Taylor Rutherford, 47, appeared shortly before 2 p.m. July 3 in orange inmate garb, bound in shackles, and he conferred with an appointed public defender before entering his pleas to Judge Becky L. Dugan.
Rutherford faces 80 years and four months in prison if he's convicted as charged, according to prosecutors.
Update 12:50 p.m. July 3 An arson suspect from the San Gorgonio Pass faces 13 felony counts of arson in connection with nine intentional fire starts since September 2011, including the Mill Fire on Friday June 28 that ripped through the Mentone-Yucaipa area, prosecutors from two counties announced Wednesday in Riverside.
Steven Taylor Rutherford, 47, of Banning, was scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. July 3 in downtown Riverside Superior Court. If he's convicted as charged, he faces 80 years and four months in prison, according to prosecutors.
Cal Fire investigators connected Rutherford to the alleged fire starts with law enforcement and commercial business surveillance cameras, and "lawfully placed GPS trackers on his vehicles," prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Rutherford is charged with intentionally setting the following arson fires in and near the San Gorgonio Pass:
- Sept. 6, 2011: Twin Fire near Highway 243 and Twin Pines Road, which burned about 5 acres.
- Sept. 7, 2011: Banning Fire near Old Banning/Idyllwild Road, west of Highway 243, about 55 acres burned.
- Sept. 11, 2011: Summit Fire near Highway 74 and Mile Marker 55, about two acres burned.
- Sept. 11, 2011: Lambs Fire near Gilman Springs Road, east of Sanderson, about 35 acres burned.
- Oct. 22, 2011: Water Fire in Whitewater Canyon north of Interstate 10, about 20 acres burned.
- Oct. 22, 2011: Free Fire near Mt. Edna Road west of Highway 243, about 10 acres burned.
- Sept. 9, 2012: Edna Fire near Highway 243, south of Wesley Street, about four acres burned.
- June 28, 2013: Smith Fire near Highway 243 south of Banning, about five acres burned.
- June 28, 2013: Mill Fire, which started next to Highway 38 at Newport Road in Mentone, about 534 acres burned, four properties damaged, including two homes.
Total area burned in the nine fires was around 670 acres, prosecutors said.
Rutherford faces enhancements including use of a delayed ignition device and a prior arson conviction from 1989, said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach.
Zellerbach announced the charges at a news conference Wednesday with San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Dale Hutchinson, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins, and Deputy District Attorney Amy Zeta.
Before discussing the charges against Rutherford, prosecutors, fire chiefs and a group of firefighters at the conference held a moment of silence for the 19 firefighters who died Sunday battling a lightning-start blaze northwest of Phoenix. Two of the deceased were Hemet natives.
Hawkins angrily recalled the arson-started Esperanza Fire that started in Cabazon Oct. 26, 2006, when the five-member crew of USFS Engine 57 were killed trying to protect a home on Gorgonio View.
Update 10:50 a.m. July 3 The Riverside County District Attorney's office has released a map detailing locations of fires that Banning resident Steven Rutherford is accused of setting.
In the map attached to this article, you can see many of those blazes lie within the San Gorgonio Pass, stretching from Yucaipa to Cabazon and Idyllwild.
Banning-Beaumont Patch is at a press conference detailing Rutherford's alleged arson incidents and will provide updates on the charges as soon as they become available.
Posted 10:41 p.m. July 2, 2013
A Banning man who is accused of multiple counts of arson in connection with fires in Riverside and San Bernardino counties is expected to appear in court Wednesday July 3 in the city of Riverside.
Steven Taylor Rutherford, 47, is charged with nine felony counts of arson: structure/forest land and nine felony counts of ignition of delay device, according to inmate records updated July 2.
Rutherford was behind bars Tuesday evening at Smith Correctional in Banning, where he was held on $5 million bail, according to updated inmate records.
He was arrested by Cal Fire at 5:41 p.m. June 28 at 9615 Bluff St. in Banning, according to inmate records. That address is on Banning Bench, above Banning Water Canyon, just north of Gilman Street, and east of Bogart Park in Beaumont.
Rutherford is accused of intentionally setting an unspecified number of fires.
Cal Fire officials in Riverside County issued a press release Monday July 1 touting Rutherford's arrest, but they gave no specifics on which fires he is suspected of intentionally starting.
Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson of South Ops in Riverside referred questions to the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.
The case against Rutherford was "still in review" and no filing decision had been made as of Monday, a District Attorney's spokesman said just before 5 p.m. July 1.
On Tuesday July 2, D.A. representatives announced a news conference "to discuss Steven Taylor Rutherford" at the Riverside County D.A.'s Office on Orange Street. They described Rutherford as an "accused serial arsonist."
Expected to appear at the news conference are Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Dale Hutchinson, and Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins.
According to inmate records, Rutherford's court appearance Wednesday is scheduled at the Riverside Hall of Justice.