PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Brandon McGlover, the man accused of igniting the Cranston Fire in July 2018, changed his plea in the case from not guilty to guilty Thursday.
The change in plea comes after a preliminary hearing in November that revealed eyewitness evidence and CAL FIRE investigative materials alleging he used a BBQ lighter and a can of WD-40 to lite the nine fires that tore across 13,000 acres near Idyllwild, Anza and Sage.
He pleaded guilty to two charges of arson of wildland and one enhancement of multiple destroyed structures. McGlover initially faced one count of damage to five or more inhabited structures, nine counts of arson for uninhabited structures and five counts of arson for inhabited structures.
McGlover was sentenced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Kelly Hansen to 12 years and four months in prison and is required to register as an arsonist for the rest of his life, the judge said. He will also be responsible for paying restitution to victims.
(With all of the damage this man caused, 12.4 years is just a spit in the bucket – 30 years wouldn’t have been too much. The judges are too light in these sentences.)
Daniel Fox, a Riverside County Deputy District Attorney, read victim statements during McGlover’s sentencing. Andrea Bond, one of the victims, described living in constant anxiety since the fire destroyed her home and belongings, like her son’s birth announcement and her mother’s hand-made Christmas ornaments.
Alta Kavanaugh, another victim, described the heart-wrenching loss of the cabin she purchased on a teacher’s salary and lost in the fire. It was her “prized possession,” she wrote, and insurance denied reimbursing her for the loss.
Fox gave the final victim statement from memory. The victim, he said, was too upset to put it in writing.
Jeanine Munson and her husband, Tim Hammons, lived in the woods near Idyllwild for more than two decades, Fox said. When told to evacuate the fire area, they gathered what belongings they could and raced down the hill toward Hemet. During the drive, Hammons suffered a massive heart attack and died three days later.
“Ms. Munson wants the court to know that she holds McGlover accountable for the death of her husband,” Fox told the judge.
McGlover, 33 of Temecula, was arrested on July 25, 2018 on the same afternoon the fires broke out. He was held on $3.5 million bail since July.
Over a three-day hearing in November, the Riverside County District Attorney painted a picture of McGlover intentionally and maliciously starting fires on the morning of July 25, 2018, in the sparsely populated forest near Hemet.
Investigators say he was armed with a BBQ lighter and cans of WD-40, driving across an area of more than 70 miles, over two and a half hours, ultimately setting nine separate fires.
At the Nov. 16 hearing, Captain Greg Ewing, a CAL FIRE investigator and a main witness in the case, testified that his investigation pointed to McGlover, based on patterns in the locations of the nine fires, how they were set, witness testimony from the 911 calls and investigator interviews, and the contents of the suspect’s car when he was arrested.
Ewing was one of four CAL FIRE investigators who, over the course of the hearing, testified that five fires were ignited on the hot summer morning along Wilson Valley Road and Sage Road in the rural area near the towns of Aguanga and Sage, followed by a second group of four fires along Highway 74.
The investigators determined all the fires were ignited by a lighter, but Ewing’s investigation connected each one.
“Each fire was started on the roadside, immediately adjacent to the road,” Ewing said. “Fires were ignited on both sides of the road. They were ignited with a handheld open flame device and they were ignited in two clusters in a linear pattern.”
The first report of a fire on Wilson Valley Road was a 911 call just before 9:30 a.m., Ewing said, and the last report, in the first set of fires, was called in at 9:50 a.m.
What happened in between was a chaotic mixture of firefighters spotting fires while fighting other fires and more 911 calls reporting more fires. Drivers calling in the fires had trouble giving the exact locations of where they were or where exactly the fires were burning, Ewing testified.
Another witness, Peter Devries, testified during the Nov. 16 hearing that he saw a white car dart out from a clearing where a fire was burning just off of Sage Road, the last in the Wilson Valley Road group of fires.
Then at 11:37 a.m. a 911 caller reported another fire along Highway 74. Three women who had been driving home together from their work in Idyllwild to their homes in Wildomar testified that they observed McGlover near his white car at one of the fires on Highway 74, then pulled over to call 911.
The three testified they saw McGlover and his car again by another fire after they got on the road again, concluding that he must have passed them while they were stopped. The second time they saw him, they chased him to get his license plate number to report to the police.
McGlover was pulled over by Detective Troncale of the Hemet Police Department, who testified that he spotted McGlover’s car in Hemet near State Street and Domenigoni Parkway after a law enforcement advisory was sent out saying to arrest him if spotted.
Ewing arrived at the scene of the traffic stop within ten minutes to arrest McGlover.
Ewing searched McGlover’s car and found three lighters, along with two cans of WD-40 lubricant and a receipt showing that one can of WD-40 had been purchased at a Walmart in San Jacinto at 11:02 a.m. – between when the first and second sets of 911 calls were made.
Ewing said the WD-40 could be used in combination with the lighters to shoot flame onto the brush and ignite the fires.
The Cranston Fire cost $23 million to contain, Ewing said. And by the time it was extinguished, the fire consumed approximately 13,000 acres, prompted the evacuation of more than 7,000 people and destroyed seven homes.
Joseph Camarata, McGlover’s attorney, said during sentencing that his client offered his deepest sympathies to all those impacted by the fire he started. But when the judge asked if McGlover wanted to speak, he declined.
Before McGlover was taken out of the courtroom, Camarata said he had one last request. His parents, who were present, asked if they could give their son a hug before he was transported into the custody of the state prison system.
The judge denied the request and the court’s deputy led McGlover out of the room quietly.