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Woman is Charged With Starting the 2018 Delta Fire in California

A woman was arrested on Wednesday and charged with starting a fire in 2018 that burned more than 63,000 acres, damaged 20 homes and injured two people in Northern California, the authorities said.

The woman, Cynthia Ann Leroux, was arrested at her home in Mountain Gate, Calif., Shasta County and Cal Fire officials said in a news conference. Shasta County is about 200 miles north of Sacramento.

Ms. Leroux faces 18 felony charges related to the Delta Fire, which started on Sept. 5, 2018. The charges include two counts of arson of forest land causing great bodily injury and 16 counts for the destruction of homes, said Stephanie Bridgett, the Shasta County district attorney.

One truck driver suffered burns and another sustained a head injury as a result of the fire, Ms. Bridgett said.

Ms. Leroux, 57, was also charged with two felonies related to fires she was accused of setting in December 2018 and March 2020.

Ms. Leroux was being held on $1 million bail. It was unclear if she had a lawyer.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of more than 50 years. The fire will cost at least $59 million in restoration efforts, the authorities said.

“The wildfires of 2018 destroyed our community and changed lives forever,” Ms. Bridgett said. “Countless people lost everything they owned.”

“With the drought that California is in, and fire season that is upon us, this announcement is a timely reminder of the consequences of setting fires,” she said.

The Delta Fire started when the county was already under a state of emergency for another wildfire, the Carr Fire, Ms. Bridgett said. The Delta Fire forced a portion of Interstate 5 to close for several days. Union Pacific Railroad lines were also closed for several days, creating economic disruptions along the West Coast, another official said.

Ms. Leroux’s arrest was the latest in a series related to the setting of fires across California.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials charged a man with starting a fire last summer that damaged the San Gabriel Mission, a nearly 250-year-old landmark. A motive is not yet known, but law enforcement officials said the suspect had a history of disputes with the mission’s staff.

And last month, the authorities in Northern California arrested a man they accused of setting a deadly wildfire in 2020 in an attempt to cover up a woman’s murder.

The arrests come at a difficult time in California’s battle against a gripping drought, which scientists expect to get worse this year. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in the Russian River Watershed, where he said the conditions were the most severe.

Climate change is among the reasons the fire season in California starts earlier and ends later each year, according to Cal Fire. Warmer temperatures, reduced snowpacks and earlier spring snowmelt create longer, more intense dry seasons. Currently, at least four fires are burning in the state, including the Southern Fire, which has burned more than 5,000 acres in San Diego County and is 90 percent contained.

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