BIG BEAR – A man posing as a firefighter was arrested for a variety of crimes when law enforcement determined that he was a fraud after he was seen cruising around the Lake Fire, now in its second week burning in the San Bernardino mountains.
On Wednesday, July 1, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office filed criminal charges against David Anthony Battle, 44, of San Bernardino, including impersonating a member of the fire department, grand theft auto, being a felon in possession of a firearm, plus two counts of receiving stolen property.
Battle originally drew attention to himself on Saturday, June 27, when law enforcement noticed he had driven past road blocks set up because of raging fires in the nearby mountain ranges. He had been arrested and held at the Lake Fire command post in Sugarloaf, an area near Big Bear.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, deputies assigned for perimeter control and security of evacuated areas first saw Battle drive past road blocks in a white Crown Victoria. Observed wearing an authorized fire department uniform, Battle reportedly represented himself as a firefighter. He told deputies he was trying to locate a fire crew, then left the area.
Fifteen minutes later, the car was located at the incident command post, a parking lot at Big Bear High School, where crews have launched efforts to fight a fire that has lasted well over a week.
Deputies finally detained Battle, and he could not provide proper fire department identification. Deputies also noticed bald tires on his car, and an eventual records check revealed that the state exempt plates on the car had been stolen.
The vehicle identification number verified the car had been stolen from the city of San Bernardino about two weeks earlier. Inside the car, deputies located several articles of fire equipment, including uniforms from various fire agencies and a stolen fire radio. Deputies also discovered a stolen handgun in the vehicle.
Eventually, Battle was found to be on felony probation from previous charges of grand theft auto. Reports did not disclose where the stolen handgun was taken from, nor if he had anything to do with the fire.
Taken into immediate custody without incident, Battle was booked into Big Bear Jail on felony charges, later taken to West Valley Detention Center on $50,000 bail. He has yet to have a court appearance scheduled.
The Lake Fire has ravaged 31,359 acres, or about 49 square miles, of the San Gorgonio wilderness, as of 7 p.m. on Monday.