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Money may be motive for Arizona blaze

Suspect a part-time firefighter

Leonard Gregg, a part-time firefighter, was taken into custody Sunday.  

SHOW LOW, Arizona (CNN) -- A man who has worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a firefighter was charged Sunday with starting two fires in eastern Arizona, one of which evolved into the largest in the state's history.

Leonard Gregg, 29, was arrested in Whitewater Saturday night and charged with two federal counts of setting the fires near his hometown of Cibecue on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, according to U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton.

Gregg, who appeared Sunday before a U.S. magistrate in Flagstaff, Arizona, has worked for the BIA as a firefighter in the past on a contract basis, but was not a firefighter for the agency at the time of the blaze.

The government came up with a statement of probable cause that outlined evidence leading to the charges.

"There is evidence within that statement of probable cause that indicates that this individual started the fire so as to earn money as a contract firefighter," Charlton said. "This fire started with a profit motive behind it."

No details were provided on the second fire, which began a few miles from the Rodeo blaze on the Apache reservation.

If convicted, Gregg faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge. In addition, he could be ordered to pay restitution.

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Gregg will remain in custody until his detention hearing Wednesday.

He was arrested by agents of the BIA special investigation unit, FBI agents and Forest Service law enforcement officers, spokesman George Lennon said.

The suspect was at an "undisclosed location, mostly to protect him from probably a very angry public," he said

The Rodeo fire burned more than 130,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 7,700 residents of Show Low before merging with the Chediski fire last weekend.

Together, the Rodeo-Chediski fire has charred more than 452,230 acres and destroyed 423 houses.

No one else is being sought in the Rodeo fire, Charlton said, but the investigation into the Chediski fire that began June 20 is continuing. That fire was believed to have started when an injured hiker started a signal fire.

Fire information officer Jennifer Plyler said the 4,500 firefighters battling the massive Rodeo-Chediski fire had a "great" day Sunday.

"We have burned out the perimeter except for one mile northeast of Cibecue," she said. "Most of the zones are in mop-up operations and rehabilitation. ... I think we turned a corner on this fire."

She said the wildfire was 45 percent contained in all four zones, including the northwest section that covers Forest Lakes, Heber and Overgaard. Residents of those towns remained barred from their homes, but Plyler said they might be able to return by mid-week.

Residents of Timber Lakes and Aripine returned home Sunday.

Members of the Sierra Hothot crew of Oakhurst, California, maintain the fire line during a back burn Friday near Cibecue.  

Fire information officer Jim Paxon cautioned that residents returning to Show Low, Clay Springs, McNary, Hon Dah and other communities would see a landscape starkly different from the one they left earlier in the week.

"What was green in many cases is going to be black and look like a moonscape," he said. "There's still going to be tendrils of smoke, and from inside there are still going to be islands of 100 to 500 acres where the fire is waiting to burn up ... We know where those hot spots are and we're going after them."

"This big change is going to be shocking, to say the least," he added.

More than 4,100 firefighters are battling the blaze. Officials said 423 homes have been lost -- but thousands have been saved.




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