IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - The Imperial County Sheriff's Office arrested a man they believe set multiple haystacks and vegetation on fire throughout Imperial County damaging many farms.
The Imperial County Fire Department (ICFD) and Office of Emergency Services engaged in a 3rd alarm fire Saturday that spanned from Holtville to Calipatria.
Imperial County Sheriff's County Dispatch Center was notified of the fires on haystacks that erupted over the weekend on Saturday, April 23 around 12:19 p.m.
According to the ICFD, multiple fires were set off throughout the North and East end of Imperial County.
These fires impacted many farms and families.
One farmer Andrew Leimgruber told me his family lost five haystacks this month alone due to arson, with each stack putting them out of tens of thousands of dollars.
He said the haystack's value is anywhere from $50-$70,000.
Haystacks require time and money but profits can go from thousands of dollars to zero from one second to the next.
"Unfortunately a fire happens in seconds and the entire crop is lost. All the work and effort just because of someone's ill intentions," said Leimgruber.
Leimgruber says according to the farm bureau, this weekend's fire-affected about 30 different farming families.
"It'll affect our customers, the dairy industry, the cattle industry and it'll have an immense effect that'll multiply and be felt throughout the valley," said Leimgruber.
Firefighters from Calipatria, Brawley, Westmoreland, Holtville and El Centro assisted Imperial County firefighters in taking down more than 10 haystack fires lasting through Sunday.
ICFD Deputy Fire Chief Salvador Flores said the fires ignited within a few minutes of each other and stretched their resources thin.
"An incident like this does post a danger our community. There were several medical aid calls needed to be addressed at the same time there were crews trying to fight these fires that posted a delay in the response," said Flores.
Flores says they suspected arson because the fires were very close to each other and weather conditions were not proper for a self-starter.
With the help of locals, Imperial County Sheriff's office was able to identify the suspect.
According to Sgt. Murad Masad with the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, investigators received enough information through witnesses to gather a black 2007 Jeep Cherokee with an off-road light bar was at the scene at the time of the fires.
Sgt. Masad said Sheriff's then checked license plate readers for the described vehicle during the hours the fires were started.
On Sunday, April 24 at about 11:50 a.m., the Jeep was found by investigators north of Calipatria, Calif. and found the suspect parked in a field.
"After speaking to him, he pretty much confessed to all the hay stack fires that occurred that day and from the fires that occurred outside of Holtville last week and the week before," Sgt. Masad said.
The suspect was working as an irrigator on a farm. He was booked for multiple counts of arson with a $1 million bail.