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Santa Barbara neighbors upset Loma Fire could have been arson

Loma Fire
Scott Sheahen / KEYT
Fire spread is on the increase with dryness running months ahead of schedule.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- One man is behind bars after Santa Barbara police arrested him in connection to Thursday night’s Loma Fire. The area just above Loma Alta Drive about 100 yards down the hill from KEYT's studios is the area of interest for Santa Barbara City fire investigators.

Residents 50 yards below that spot watched in horror as the hillside lit up the night's sky.

Roberto Olivo watched with his cousin Jesus. Roberto said, "I saw just a bunch of big flames. I heard the ambulances, the firefighters, the fir trucks, everybody."

Their terror turned to anger when they found out police arrested someone for arson.

"It's just crazy how fast it would have spread in our neighborhood," said Jesus Olivo. "It's just sad. It's sad that people don't care about people's lives you know."

Santa Barbara police arrested 23-year-old Victor Hernandez as a suspect for arson potentially causing the Loma Fire. Worse Hernandez is suspected by police in other recent fires nearby. Neighbors said they've seen Hernandez before.

Jesus Olivo said he saw Hernandez Thursday morning while dropping his daughter off at school. "Yeah there was this sketchy guy. There's a view, like a point of view right over there. Yeah I seen it on the news they caught this guy. I didn't see his face, I saw his body you know. And I could tell it was him."

About a third of the way up TV Hill, just about Loma Alta Drive is where investigators think the fire started. And NewsChannel 3-12's First Alert Weather Team said that wind gusts were up to 55 miles per hour during the fire. And firefighters said those winds brought the flames up to the top of this ridge within minutes. 

Liliana Encinas is Santa Barbara City Fire's public outreach specialist. She said, "These are great reminders for folks to be prepared because it's only a matter of time when we have our next disaster. It's not if but when. And so we want to make sure the community is well aware and prepared for that."

Hernandez is currently being held on a $2 million dollar bond. Neighbors are happy that if this was arson, someone suspected of it is in jail and not near their neighborhood.

"It makes me so mad that they're putting a lot of people in danger just for the fun of it for their own enjoyment," said Roberto Olivo.

Fire officials said they are still investigating fire. They plan on being out here on Loma Alta Drive over the weekend, so expect delays and closures.

As for the suspect, Victor Hernandez, he is facing six counts of arson and two counts of drug use charges.

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Scott Sheahen

Scott Sheahen is a reporter for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Scott, click here.


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