On Tuesday, Feb. 11, a criminal grand jury indictment was unsealed and a Banning man arraigned on 13 felony counts connected to nine arson fires in Riverside and San Bernardino counties between 2011 and 2013, the Riverside County District Attorney’s office announced. Six of the fires were in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Steven Taylor Rutherford, 48, has been charged with 13 felony counts of arson with enhancements, including use of a delayed ignition device and having a prior arson conviction. The prior conviction was for a Riverside County arson fire set in 1989.
Rutherford’s arrest on June 28, 2013, was the culmination of a lengthy Cal Fire arson investigation. He was connected to the series of arson fires through law enforcement and commercial business surveillance cameras, as well as lawfully placed GPS trackers on his vehicles.
Rutherford entered not guilty pleas to all 13 counts and denied all the enhancements. He is now scheduled for a trial readiness conference on March 11, and a trial is scheduled for April 9. If convicted as currently charged, Rutherford faces about 80 years in prison.
One of the nine fires Rutherford is charged with intentionally starting was the “Mills Fire” in San Bernardino County. Riverside County DA Paul Zellerbach and San Bernardino County DA Mike Ramos have agreed that the Riverside County DA’s office will prosecute the San Bernardino County case, along with the other eight arson fires that occurred in Riverside County.
Rutherford is charged with intentionally starting the following arson fires, listed chronologically:
- Sept. 6, 2011, Twin Fire, Highway 243 at Twin Pines Road, which burned about 5 acres;
- Sept. 7, 2011, Banning Fire, Highway 243, north of Mt. Edna Road, burning about 55 acres;
- Sept. 11, 2011, Summit Fire, Highway 74 at Mile Marker 55, burning about 2 acres;
- Sept. 11, 2011, Lambs Fire, Gilman Springs Road, east of Sanderson, burning about 35 acres;
- Oct. 22, 2011, Water Fire, Whitewater Canyon, north of Interstate 15, burning about 20 acres;
- Oct. 22, 2011, Free Fire, Mt. Edna Road, west of Highway 243, burning about 10 acres;
- Sept. 9, 2012, “Edna Fire”, Highway 243, south of Wesley Street, burning about 4 acres;
- June 28, 2013, “Smith Fire”, Highway 243, south of Banning near Mile Post 28, burning about 5 acres; and
- June 28, 2013, Mills Fire, (San Bernardino County) Mill Creek Road at Newport Road in Mentone, burning about 534 acres and causing damage to four properties, including two homes.
The grand jury proceedings — which are confidential until the unsealing of an indictment -— were held in this case over four days earlier this month during which 28 witnesses testified.
Deputy DA Amy Zeta of the DA’s Special Prosecutions Section is the prosecutor for this case.