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Arrest made in string of Florida wildfires
Wildfires MH101 5115388
This undated photo provided by the Palm Bay Police Dept. shows Brian Crowder. who was arrested Wednesday morning, May 14, 2008, in connection in Florida wildfires that have gutted at least 40 Florida homes. Crowder was taken into custody on six probation violations, but has not been charged in connection with the fires, police said. - photo by Associated Press
    PALM BAY, Fla. — Authorities along Florida’s Atlantic coast, where wildfires have gutted dozens of homes and scorched thousands of acres, arrested a man Wednesday who they said threw a glass bottle containing an accelerant into the woods.
    Officials were waiting to question Brian Crowder, 31, about the wildfires that have found ample fuel in developments in the region, where the state has not held controlled burns to cut back vegetation.
    A resident alerted police after seeing Crowder throw an object from his car that sparked a small fire in the woods, Palm Bay Detective Ernie Diebel said. The object was a bottle containing a flammable liquid, Palm Bay Police Chief Bill Berger said.
    The resident described a dark car, and officers stopped Crowder’s vehicle shortly afterward. Crowder got out of his car and fled, Diebel said.
    Officers tracked Crowder through the woods with the help of other residents who spotted him running past their homes, police said.
    Crowder has been charged with six probation violations. He was being treated at a hospital for minor injuries caused by a police dog when officers took him into custody, Berger said.
    Authorities have said they believe the wildfires burning in Palm Bay and neighboring Malabar were set by an arsonist or arsonists. Two classic Florida phenomena have fueled the flames: rampant development and a year-round growing season.
    Since the fires began Sunday about 20 homes have been destroyed and 160 other structures damaged. The damage was estimated at approximately $3.5 million, said Palm Bay City Manager Lee Feldman, who said homes and outbuildings were among the damaged structures. Officials had earlier reported 40 homes destroyed.
    Efforts to contain the fires that have burned about 15 square miles were improving, officials said. Still, major highways in the area were still being intermittently closed because of smoke and the proximity of the flames.
    ‘‘We had pretty good weather last night, so the fire laid down and let us catch up a bit,’’ said Todd Schroeder, spokesman for the state’s Division of Forestry.
    Some residents were trying Wednesday to pick through charred remains of their homes for belongings.
    Veda VanFleet stood amid the remains of the two-story home her husband built almost 30 years ago in Malabar. She remembered the treehouse her three boys used to play in out back and the basketball hoop in the front yard.
    ‘‘It’s gone. It’s all gone,’’ said VanFleet.
    In north Florida, firefighters were also working on fires in uninhabited areas of Franklin and Liberty Counties, west of Tallahassee. Both fires were in the Apalachicola National Forest and no people or homes were in danger.
    On the other side of the country, crews were trying to make headway Wednesday against a fire 45 miles northeast of Los Angeles that had forced the evacuation of a half-dozen vacation homes Tuesday, though most already were empty, authorities said. Flames came within 100 yards of some cabins but none had been damaged.

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