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UPDATE: 'Serial Arsonist' From Banning Accused of Starting June 28 Mill Fire, Eight Other Blazes

Steven Taylor Rutherford, 47, of Banning, enters not guilty pleas to 13 felony counts of arson in connection with nine fires, including the June 28 Mill Fire, in Riverside Superior Court, Wednesday July 3, 2013. Patch photo by Guy McCarthy.
Steven Taylor Rutherford, 47, of Banning, enters not guilty pleas to 13 felony counts of arson in connection with nine fires, including the June 28 Mill Fire, in Riverside Superior Court, Wednesday July 3, 2013. Patch photo by Guy McCarthy.
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 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.

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.

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.
Michelle R. July 03, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Look it up then if it is public record and you are so flippin curious. ..... And no I did not bring it up. I was married to him for 22 years. I know what kind of man he is.
steve l July 03, 2013 at 04:11 PM
You did bring it up and I already know what he did. It's no secret
Jennifer H July 03, 2013 at 04:13 PM
I agree with Michelle and Sandi, I have known Steve for many of years and stayed at Michelle and Steves home Numerous of times. He is a good man and should not be judged by something that occurred well over 20 years ago. He is a caring man and is being profiled based on his past..
steve l July 03, 2013 at 04:13 PM
First sandi brought it up then you did. Read your own posts.
Michelle R. July 03, 2013 at 04:18 PM
Right... Sandy brought it up. I followed suit. Do you know him or are you just following the media and condeming him already?
steve l July 03, 2013 at 04:19 PM
So did they make it up last time too? At least he didn't kill anybody?
Jennifer H July 03, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Steve l.. I personally will not tolerate you being a rude arrogant individual. If you want to sit here and judge someone by what they had done over 20 flippin years ago then make sure your own hands are clean. As Michelle said.. He served his time for his crime 20+ years ago. Get over it.
steve l July 03, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Lol, I'm judging by what they are charging him with right here, right now. And I so do not care what you'll tolerate or won't. Tell him quit playing with matches and things will be better. Does he have some grudge he's acting out on?
ATC July 03, 2013 at 04:38 PM
I too, couldn’t care less what he did 20 years ago…I care about what he’s accused of doing over the past 2 years. I’ve lived here for 44 years and seen my share of the devastation that brush fires have done in this area, both in terms of property damage and loss of lives. For them to link him to that many fires, with surveillance cameras and gps tracking…the evidence has to be pretty strong.
Michelle R. July 03, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Time will tell. Give him the rights of every person a fair trial.
SANDI MURRY July 03, 2013 at 06:37 PM
steve l July 03, 2013 at 06:57 PM
lmao, assholes? classy. explains a lot.
Michelle R. July 03, 2013 at 06:58 PM
To each their own.
ATC July 03, 2013 at 09:24 PM
Not just assholes, but ASSHOLES. I guess no one ever told SANDI that she doesn't need to yell online to be heard. :)
Susan P July 03, 2013 at 10:06 PM
This must be the same Jennifer, who has already condemned the press over at The Desert Sun. Here's what she had to say there. " First of all there is no proof that Steve has done this. Until all the facts are laid out don't judge someone. Pretty sad they only show one photo of person and the other three arrests for the same crime are not published.. " It's pretty sad when you're so blind that the lives and safety of MANY - not to mention personal property - seem to be an afterthought instead of a PRIORITY in your defense of this man. If the severity of these crimes doesn't seem to sink in you would at least think the $5 million bail would. Here's another one that needs to be peddling "Free My Friend" t-shirts out on the street corner. Either that, or I could make a fortune selling "I'm with stupid! -->" t's! :D Just a thought!
Michelle R. July 03, 2013 at 10:35 PM
Not blind...just asking for the right to a fair trial before being made a monster from the media. If they had known for sure years ago... why not arrest him then?
Jennifer H July 04, 2013 at 12:51 AM
yes I am the same Jennifer and whats your point Natasha?
Mo July 04, 2013 at 02:08 AM
This man was married to my cousin. I think she knows him better than any of you here who think you are Judge Jury and Executioner. I work for an attorney and know that many many many people are wrongfully convicted. Also to say that there is nothing lower than an arsonist, who by the way has not had a trial yet, shows how small minded you are. If Steve did it then he will do the punishment for the crime. I personally don't think it's true. Also to personally attack someone for their opinion, which is based off of knowing someone for 20+ years, is honestly pathetic. My cousin Michelle knows who he is and knows he did not do this. But keep on judging. Better yet why don't you get out your bible and try reading it.
Susan P July 04, 2013 at 05:01 AM
~yes I am the same Jennifer and whats your point Natasha?~ Y'all are so concerned about some pictures in the media? lol Y'all are trying to plead this dude's innocence here, right? This isn't divorce court. I don't care how well you 'know' him. But since you think you do, does he get off on threatening the lives of humans? Does he hate animals and like to threaten wildlife? Does he like to power-trip while watching cops and firemen scramble to extinguish fires, relocate homeowners and reroute traffic? Pictures? Since y'all 'know' him so well, and this isn't a court of law - produce pictures of yourselves with him on the date and time these fires started. This article says in black and white authorities HAVE pictures of him starting fires and that the GPS was lawfully placed. I'll wait for the trial to see them. And, if you have pictures, on these dates and times - I might recant my original claim that you hang with stupid people.
Jennifer H July 04, 2013 at 12:04 PM
if he was guilty of starting these fires then why didn't they arrest him 2 years ago... All my point was and is... Yes I have known this man since 1997 and He deserves a fair trial.. There are already some false statements that can be proved so guess you will just wait til trial.. and in response to your questions.. He has never threatened a human life, He loves animals, he respects the police, fire department etc.. so get off your high horse and screw off.. you think you know him and you have no idea how compassionate of a man he is. I will stand by his side no matter what you jerks (putting that politely) have to say.
Susan P July 04, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Which false statements are they? Do you have proof that they are incorrect? Where is that proof?? They didn't arrest him two years ago, because they didn't have proof - just like YOU don't have proof now. You don't have a picture of him as an alibi - YOU don't have proof. Now, all the little girls can sing, "Stand by Your Man" until the cows come home (BTW how much livestock did folks lose in these blazes?) but my mind's pretty much made up on this point - Y'all must be stupid demanding women, because I didn't see YOU in here showing any concern for your neighbors during these blazes. But, here you are now - without a single lick of PROOF to refute this story! Sing all together girls! Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Dumb!
Michelle R. July 04, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Really...... so if someone you knew was charged with something you would judge them before seeing all the evidence and the facts? How do you know that there is no evidence to refute the story? Are you on the DA's council and have sen the file. I think not.
Mo July 04, 2013 at 01:33 PM
Oh and Natasha since you are voicing your opinion so loudly... Where is YOUR proof that he did it????!!!! You must have it since you think your so high and mighty to judge someone you know nothing about, have never met and obviously an idiot who believes everything they hear.
Susan P July 04, 2013 at 01:40 PM
What I'm saying is - if you demand photographs of an unbiased media, perhaps you should make sure that you can refute the story first. If this was a member of my family, I'd be working hard on convincing the court of their innocence - instead of wasting time here. lol
Susan P July 04, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Mo, what you failed to disclose to your dear lady friends here is the percentage of those wrongfully convicted of a felony in the State, who ACTUALLY have their sentence overturned in the appeals process. I am actually wanting the one wishing to see justice done here. :D
steve l July 04, 2013 at 03:28 PM
you girls bail him out yet? you get him a good lawyer? IF hes found guilty, which maximum security prison would you prefer they send him to? close to home? or up north somewhere? just things you should probably be thinking about. and IF he did start those fires, he damned sure did threaten the lives of people and animals. you might want to remember esperanza. or look in the news about the arizona firefighters. and, just an opinion, id lean towards up north on the maximum security prison thing. just sayin.
FB July 04, 2013 at 09:30 PM
They probably caught him starting the fires on camera. Not to mention his MO.
steve l July 04, 2013 at 09:54 PM
plus they put a gps on his car
Cottrell Stan July 05, 2013 at 05:55 AM
I agree we should wait till all the evidence is revealed about this case. Me and my wife are currently living with neighbors temporarily because of the Mill fire. So we are very interested in who started that fire and why.We must remember judge not or we to will be judged by the same standard one day. If this guy did it God will provide justice and if he is innocent he needs to be released and the real guilty party arrested.
Steve Mehlman July 05, 2013 at 02:17 PM
"Give him the rights of every person a fair trial." You're being naive, Michelle. Today we live in a Nancy Grace world, where anyone accused of anything is automatically guilty.. sometimes even if he or she is ultimately proven innocent. And that right you talk about is part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution...the one that requires equal protection under the law for all Americans. Of course, most Americans don't even know that there are amendments to our Constitution (other than the 2nd., of course.)


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