RIVERSIDE (CBS) — Half of a $100,000 reward offered for the capture of the person responsible for setting the deadly 2006 Esperanza wildfire was released today to a key witness against the man convicted of igniting the monster blaze.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to withdraw $50,000 from county reserves and give it to the witness, who testified for the prosecution in the trial of former Beaumont mechanic Raymond Lee Oyler.
“An attorney for the witness — who has reported being harassed and ostracized for testifying in the case — has asked that his client be identified publicly only as Claimant Doe,” county spokesman Ray Smith wrote in a report.
Officials said a in meeting last December between prosecutors and investigators, it was decided that Claimant Doe’s testimony and cooperation were critical and she deserved a portion of the reward.
Oyler lit the 41,000-acre Esperanza blaze south of Cabazon on Oct. 26, 2006. Fanned by strong Santa Ana winds, the fire spread throughout the Banning Pass, raging into the mountain hamlet of Twin Pines, where the crew of U.S. Forest Service Engine 57 — comprised of Capt. Mark Allen Loutzenhiser, 43, and firefighters Pablo Cerda, 24, Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, Jason Robert McKay, 27, and Jess Edward McLean, 27 — died.
Oyler, 40, was convicted in March 2009 of five counts of first-degree
murder and more than three dozen counts of arson and possessing destructive devices. He had set multiple fires in the Pass area throughout 2006, according to trial testimony.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)