FBI gathers evidence in arson probe over Calif. wildfires


By Matt Apuzzo
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. Special FBI teams gathered evidence Wednesday as part of a possible arson investigation into the wildfires devastating Southern California, the agency said.

FBI evidence response teams recovered materials they hoped would identify the source of the fires that have burned for four days. The FBI said a house was not searched, correcting earlier reports from a law enforcement official.

Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said the evidence response teams "have been working with other federal, state and local authorities" to identify the source of the fires.

The fires have destroyed 1,500 homes and caused at least a half-million people to flee, in what has become the largest evacuation in state history. San Diego County accounted for at least 1,200 damaged homes, and officials believe that number will rise.

Twenty-one firefighters and at least 24 other people have been injured. One person was killed by the flames, and the San Diego medical examiner's officer listed five other deaths as connected to the blazes.

Thousands of people remained in emergency shelters, where many had an agonizing wait to find out whether their homes had survived.

President Bush signed a major disaster declaration for California in the wake of the wildfires that have charred about 426,000 acres, or about 665 square miles.

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