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5 accused of starting Malibu wildfire

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Men were partying in a cave
  • All five are from the Los Angeles area and are being charged with three felonies
  • Receipts and surveillance camera footage helped investigators find the men
  • Fire engulfed about 5,000 acres and destroyed more than 50 homes last month
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MONTEREY PARK, California (CNN) -- Five men are accused of starting a massive Malibu wildfire at that destroyed more than 50 homes and forced about 15,000 people to evacuate.

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A firefighter works to contain a wildfire threatening homes in Malibu, California, on November 24.

Authorities say the five, ranging in ages from 18 to 27, were drinking in a popular party spot in a cave at the park when they started the fire.

All five are from the Los Angeles area and are being charged with three felonies -- including two arson-related charges. Each count carries a sentence of two to four years in prison.

Baca said investigators traced the fire to the cave, then used receipts and surveillance camera footage from a nearby store to hunt down the men.

Investigators would not comment on why the men started the fire. During the investigation, fire officials speculated that a campfire may have started the blaze -- which engulfed roughly 5,000 acres and destroyed 80 structures, including the 53 homes.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the wake of the fire, which started on November 24.

The blaze, which was fueled by dry Santa Ana winds and low humidity, followed a spate of California wildfires in October that charred more than 508,000 acres in several counties. Those fires forced 1 million people from their homes and left 14 people dead.

The men are expected to make their first court appearance on Monday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About WildfiresArnold Schwarzenegger

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