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Three questioned about deadly California wildfire

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BEAUMONT, California (CNN) -- Three people have been questioned in connection with the arson that investigators say sparked the deadly Esperanza wildfire that killed four firefighters

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department confirmed Tuesday that two men were brought in Monday, questioned and then released.

A woman also was questioned and released Monday, said department spokesman Earl Quinata.

One of the men, Jason Hutson, who was handcuffed by authorities, told CNN on Tuesday that he had no part in the alleged arson. Hutson also said he passed a polygraph test.

CNN was unable to immediately confirm Hutson's claims.

Also Tuesday, fire investigators walked behind the house where Hutson is staying to the fire's point of origin about a quarter of a mile away.

Other people also have been called in and questioned in the past few days, based on tips from the public, Quinata said.

There have been no arrests.

A mourning mother's plea

Firefighters fully contained the 40,200-acre blaze Monday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Web site.

All evacuation orders were lifted Tuesday, and 300 firefighters were sent home. About 1,700 firefighters remained at the scene.

The blaze destroyed 34 homes and 20 sheds and garages primarily in the neighboring towns of Twin Pines and Poppet Flats, the Web site said. Both areas had been under mandatory evacuation orders.

The blaze began Thursday morning near Cabazon, California, west of Palm Springs, and spread quickly to the south and west. Later in the day it killed the four firefighters and critically burned a fifth.

On Saturday the mother of one of those firefighters pleaded on television for the alleged arsonist to come forward.

"To the arsonist, you already know that you have a problem," said Bonnie McKay, whose 27-year-old son, Jason McKay, had been a firefighter for five years.

"I truly believe you didn't think things would turn out the way they did, but they did," she continued. "Don't let the remorse eat you alive. Come forward. There are people who can help you deal with the grief and the remorse you must be feeling.

"I, for one, will not try to judge you," she said. "Because there is only one who can judge you. And I knew my son -- forgiveness is in his heart. It is a major part of who Jason was."

Jason McKay was one of five firefighters on U.S. Forest Service Engine Crew 57 assigned to the San Jacinto Ranger District.

The other crew members who lost their lives are: Engine Capt. Mark Loutzenhiser, 44, of Idyllwild, a 21-year firefighting veteran; Engine Operator Jess McLean, 27, of Beaumont, who had seven years of service; and Daniel Hoover-Najera, 20, of San Jacinto, who had fought fires for two years. They died trying to protect a home and the wind shifted.

The fifth firefighter, Pablo Cerda, 23, continues to cling to life in the burn center of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in nearby Colton. Doctors have removed 90 percent of his burned skin and say his prognosis is poor.

State and local officials, along with an Indian tribe and a private citizen, have offered a total of $500,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for setting the fire.




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