Trial for Old Fire arsonist to begin nearly a decade after blaze

Rickie Lee Fowler, alleged arsonist suspected of setting 2003 Old Fire.
Rickie Lee Fowler, alleged arsonist suspected of setting 2003 Old Fire. Photo: San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office

Nearly ten years ago, the Old Fire burned through 90,000 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest and led to several deaths. The suspected arsonist is expected to finally sit trial this spring... and prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Investigators in San Bernardino County have suspected Rickie Lee Fowler of setting the fire for years, possibly in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad.

The Old Fire burned for nine days from the edge of San Bernardino to Lake Arrowhead, destroying nearly a thousand homes and indirectly killing six people (the cause of death is each case was a stress-related heart attack).

According to the Press-Enterprise, the cause of the blaze was directly traced to a lighted flare thrown from Old Waterman Canyon Road into the surrounding dry brush.

Prosecutors filed arson and murder charges against Fowler two years ago while he was doing time for a burglary conviction. He pleaded not guilty, although did initially sign a statement confessing to being on Canyon Road at the time the fire was started.

Fowler later revoked the statement, telling the Press-Enterprise last November that he "did admit to it, but [only] so they'd stop pressuring me, badgering me."

Fowler’s trial was set to begin this January, but was rescheduled for March so attorneys could have more time to review court documents.

Fowler also faces additional felony charges of forcible sodomy in a separate case. Last summer he allegedly raped a fellow inmate at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he is currently being held.

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