RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A 46-year-old man accused of igniting 10 fires around Diamond Valley Lake south of Hemet, burning acreage dedicated to wildlife preservation, pleaded not guilty Friday to arson and other charges.
Noel Lopez Mejia was arrested last week following an investigation by Cal Fire peace officers.
Mejia is charged with 10 counts of arson and one count of grand theft.
He was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge O.G. Magno, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Jan. 9 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
The defendant is being held in lieu of $610,000 at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
According to the county fire department, Mejia is accused of lighting blazes between Sept. 29 and Nov. 26, resulting in a total 40 acres burned.
“Officers allege that Mejia entered the foothills along the north side of Diamond Valley Lake, from the back side of a residential property, and hiked the roads and hills where he set the 10 wildland fires,” according to an agency statement. “These fires burned within the Southwestern Riverside Multi-Species Reserve and endangered those protected, sensitive species.”
Firefighters were able to contain most of the blazes within a few hours. No one was injured, and no homes or other structures were damaged, officials said.
A possible motive for the alleged acts of arson was not disclosed.
Court records also did not specify the origin of the theft count filed against the defendant, who has no documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.