Homeless man suspected of starting fires in Murrieta, charged with six counts of arson

A USA drone operator searches for a suspect in the brush. Photo provided by the City of Murrieta.

A 35-year-old homeless man has been arrested on suspicion of setting multiple brush fires near a residential area in the City of Murrieta.

On March 15 at approximately 4 p.m., Murrieta Fire & Rescue was dispatched to a brush fire in the area near Clearview Street and Whitewood Road. The reporting party advised there were “several fires” in the fields near a residential area and had observed an unknown subject setting the fires, officials said.

The location of the fires has an overgrown brush, is surrounded by residential homes, and is inside a Riverside County Wildlife Conservation Area set aside for the protection of native plants and animals.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the fires while Murrieta Police Department officers established a perimeter around a large parcel of land where the subject was last seen running.

The Murrieta Police Department Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Team responded and assisted with the search of the suspect. During the search, the UAS drone operator observed the suspect crawling in the heavy brush in what appeared to be an attempt to conceal himself.

Officers located the suspect, identified as Francisco Villanueva, and placed him under arrest. Villanueva was charged with six counts of arson. His bail was set at $250,000.

“Murrieta Fire & Rescue Fire Investigators confirmed that multiple fires were intentionally set, and no additional details will be released at this time,” MFR Investigator Mike Macalinao said.


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