Deadly Californian wildfire was started to cover up murder

Fire led to additional deaths adding further charges of murder and arson to suspect in custody

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Thursday 29 April 2021 18:30
Flames surround Lake Berryessa during the August 2020 wildfires, part of which was started to cover up a murder
Flames surround Lake Berryessa during the August 2020 wildfires, part of which was started to cover up a murder

A wildfire that swept through part of northern California, killing two people, was intentionally started to cover up a murder, authorities have claimed.

An eight-month criminal investigation by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the source of the 2020 Markley Fire was arson.

The fire was started near Lake Berryessa on 18 August. The burned body of 32-year-old Priscilla Castro, who had been reported missing, was found at the site.

Victor Serriteno was arrested by the Vacaville Police Department in mid-September last year. He has since been charged with murder and has been in custody since his arrest.

Two further deaths in the area resulting from that fire are now considered homicides. Douglas Mai, 82, and Leon “James” Bone, 64 — were found dead in their homes, Sheriff Tom Ferrara told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Based on the extensive investigation, we believe Serriteno deliberately set the Markley Fire in an attempt to conceal his crime,” a statement from the sheriff’s office says.

“Earlier this morning, Sheriff’s Detectives arrested Serriteno for additional charges including murder and arson.”

Officials believe that Ms Castro of Vallejo, California, came to Vacaville to meet Mr Serriteno on 16 August. Police say she was never heard from again.

The Markley Fire started in the Stebbins-Cold Canyon area and merged with the nearby, larger Hennessey Fire which was later included in the overall “LNU Lightning Complex”.

This large complex of fires was the result of two days of lightning strikes and is one of the largest wildfires in California’s history, burning 363,000 acres across five counties.

Almost 1,500 structures were destroyed and six people died across Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, and Solano counties.

In 2020, California saw 4.2 million acres of land burned by wildfires, destroying 9,200 structures, and killing 31 people, including three firefighters.