REDDING, Calif. — A former firefighter has pleaded not guilty to murder and arson in connection with a wildfire that killed one person and destroyed dozens of homes in rural Northern California.
Zane Wallace Peterson of Happy Valley, Calif., entered the plea during his arraignment in Shasta County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the 29-year-old started two fires that turned into the massive Clover Fire in Shasta County in September. The blaze charred nearly 13 square miles, and destroyed 68 homes and 128 other structures. It also claimed the life of 56-year-old Brian Henry, whose body was found in a mobile home hit by fire.
Peterson’s arrest came after three months of investigation, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Captain Scott McLean said. 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, and is being held without bail in the Shasta County Jail. He was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.
‘‘This is still an ongoing case. There’s still more work to be done on our part to make sure this comes to a positive conclusion,’’ McLean said Wednesday. He declined to go into more specifics about the case, including a motive, citing an ongoing investigation.
The Clover Fire that started in early September destroyed 68 homes and 128 other structures. The fire has been blamed in the death Brian Stanley Henry, 56, whose body was found inside a motor home destroyed by flames in the community of Igo, which is located about 150 miles north of Sacramento.
The blaze was fanned by gusty winds, and spread at about 500 acres an hour at its peak. More than 1,500 firefighters battled the fire that cost more than $7 million to fight.
Shasta County Senior Deputy District Attorney Ben Hanna told the Record Searchlight of Redding that Peterson was a former firefighter in the North State. Records kept by the Forest Service show Peterson worked for the Mendocino National Forest at one time.
If convicted, Peterson faces a 25 years-to-life sentence for the murder charge, and 90 years for the arson charges, Hanna said.