Redding - A former fire-fighter pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and several arson charges in connection with a wildfire that killed one person and destroyed dozens of structures in rural northern California.
Zane Wallace Peterson, 29, entered his plea in court one day after he was arrested on allegations he started two fires that turned into the massive Clover Fire in Shasta County.
Peterson's arrest came after three months of investigation, said state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Captain Scott McLean. Peterson is also accused of starting six other fires since September.
He faces hundreds of charges related to the fires, including arson causing great bodily injury, and arson of inhabited dwellings, said Shasta County Senior Deputy District Attorney Ben Hanna. If convicted, faces a 25 years to life sentence for the murder charge and 90 years for the arson charges, Hanna said.
A call placed to a number for Peterson was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Peterson is being held on $3m bail and is due back in court on 2 January. He was represented Wednesday by a public defender, Hanna said.
McLean said the case is still ongoing.
"There's still more work to be done on our part to make sure this comes to a positive conclusion," he said. He declined to go into more specifics about the case, including a motive, citing the ongoing investigation.
The Clover Fire in early September charred nearly 33.67 square kilometres, destroyed 68 homes and 128 other structures.
The fire also has been blamed for the death Brian Stanley Henry, 56, whose body was found inside a motor home destroyed by flames in the community of Igo, north of Sacramento.
Hanna said Peterson was a former firefighter. Records kept by the US Forest Service show Peterson worked for the Mendocino National Forest at one time, according to the Record Searchlight of Redding (http://bit.ly/1bQvw9a ).
Peterson, however, had not been employed by the forest service for more than a year, said Stanton Florea, spokesperson for the Pacific Southwest region.