Man charged with starting series of fires near Diamond Valley Lake

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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, is slated to be arraigned Friday on arson and other charges.

Noel Lopez Mejia was arrested last week following a months-long investigation by Cal Fire peace officers.

Mejia is charged with 10 counts of arson and one count of grand theft.

He made his initial court appearance Monday, when Riverside County Superior Court Judge O.G. Magno appointed him a public defender and set his bail at $610,000.

The defendant, who is being held at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, will appear before Magno again for formal arraignment at the Riverside Hall of Justice Friday morning.

According to the county fire department, Mejia allegedly lit blazes between Sept. 29 and Nov. 26, resulting in a total of 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.”

Fire crews were able to contain most of the brushers within a few hours. No one was injured, and no homes or other structures were damaged.

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.