Officials Friday released the names of two suspects arrested after a stolen vehicle pursuit and fire that damaged two homes in a Moreno Valley neighborhood and caused dozens of residences to be evacuated.
The car chase began about 4 p.m. Thursday on Bay Avenue, where deputies spotted a vehicle with a license plate matching a sedan reported stolen and gave chase, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
Two patrol SUVs followed the suspects as they steered off the pavement at Bay and Phyllis avenues, heading into an open field behind homes. The sheriff’s units and the stolen car came to a stop when the man and woman in the car — later identified as Phillip Moreno, 47, and Aliette Saldana, 28, of Highland — bailed out and fled on foot, according to reports from the scene.
In 100-degree temperatures, the suspect vehicle became stuck on a dirt mound and the surrounding area caught fire, with the flames quickly spreading toward properties on Phyllis and Bay avenues, as well as Ella Avenue and a portion of Ellsworth Street.
“Cal Fire arson investigators have determined the fire originated from the suspect vehicle,” according to sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Sexton.
The suspects were taken into custody, and the fire accelerated in breezy conditions, reaching a storage building at 13679 Phyllis Ave. and residences at 13657 Phyllis Ave. and 22350 Ella Ave., all of which sustained damage, officials said at the scene.
The sheriff’s vehicles and stolen car were destroyed, according to reports from the scene.
Firefighters converged on the location within a few minutes and encountered flames spreading over a five-acre space, threatening multiple properties, prompting evacuations on Bernie Avenue, as well as Ella and Phyllis avenues, along with Elsworth Street, between Ella and Cottonwood avenues
Crews protected about 80 homes, but nine vehicles were destroyed or damaged and three outbuildings burned as well, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
An engine crew remained at the location Friday afternoon, mopping up.
No injuries were reported, but more than a dozen pet birds, five cats and two dogs were rescued by animal control officers, officials said.
Evacuees were sent to Towngate Elementary School, where they were assisted by Red Cross personnel until the fire was contained, which occurred just after nightfall. The mandatory evacuation order was lifted at 10 p.m. Thursday, according to the fire department.
Moreno was booked on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, felony evading, recklessly igniting a fire with property damage, possession of a stolen vehicle, conspiracy and a probation violation.
Moreno was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, where he was being held without bail.
Saldana was arrested on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle and conspiracy and was also booked at the Robert Presley Detention Center but was released earlier Friday after posting $10,000 bail, according to the sheriff’s department.
It was unclear what liability costs the county may incur as a result of the damaged properties, and there was no word on whether the sheriff’s department will conduct an internal assessment of the pursuing deputies’ tactics, or whether the investigation will be referred to an outside agency.
When a county landscaping vehicle in August 2012 sparked a 350-acre fire in the La Cresta area, just west of Murrieta, a two-story home was destroyed and at least 11 other residences sustained damage along their property lines.
The county paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make repairs and compensate for losses.
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