Prosecutors beat statute of limitations to file murder charges in 2003 Old Fire

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

Authorities in San Bernardino County have filed murder and arson charges against a man believed responsible for starting the Old Fire back in 2003. It burned more than 90,000 in the San Bernardino National Forest, destroyed hundreds of homes, and led to several deaths.

For years, investigators in San Bernardino County suspected 27-year-old Rickie Lee Fowler started the fire. Possibly in retaliation for a drug deal gone bad.

Authorities received hundred of tips, including one from witnesses, who said Fowler was in a vehicle spotted in the Waterman Canyon area when the wildfire broke out. Prosecutors were running out of time to bring charges because the statute of limitations on arson runs out next week.

The Old Fire burned for nine days from the edge of San Bernardino to Lake Arrowhead. San Bernardino County district attorney Michael Ramos told reporters that residents will never forget the path of destruction cut by the Old Fire.

“Millions in property loss, over 90,000 acres of forest land, untold loss of wildlife, over 80,000 citizens of this county were evacuated, and of course, the millions of dollars cost for the suppression of this fire by the fire agencies.”

Six people died of stress-related heart attacks linked to the wildfire. That’s why Rickie Lee Fowler is charged with murder. Authorities have not said if they’ll seek the death penalty. Fowler is currently serving a nine-year sentence in state prison for an unrelated burglary conviction.