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Page last updated at 18:44 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 19:44 UK

US wildfire man sentenced to die

Raymond Lee Oyler in court, January 2009
Oyler was described by the judge as a "proficient" arsonist

A southern Californian court has sentenced a man to death for the first-degree murder of five firefighters by starting an October 2006 forest blaze.

Raymond Lee Oyler was convicted of starting the so-called Esperanza Fire in Riverside County as well as numerous other blazes in the county.

The Esperanza raged about 90 miles (150km) east of Los Angeles.

A fire engine crew was overwhelmed as it went to protect an unoccupied rural house and five members died.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge W Charles Morgan found that the aggravating circumstances in Oyler's case outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

Fires in Banning, California, October 2006
Oyler was convicted of starting fires in the Banning Pass area

"Mr Oyler set [out] on a mission... to wreak havoc in this county by setting fires by his own design for his own purposes and, as proven by the evidence, he became more and more proficient.

"He knew that young men and women would put their lives on the line to protect other people and property and he continued anyway."

Some 10,000 attended a memorial service for the firefighters who were all but one in their 20s.

Oyler, 38, a former car mechanic with a young daughter, was also convicted of 20 counts of arson and 17 counts of using an incendiary device for a rash of blazes in Riverside in 2006.

Defence lawyer Mark McDonald said the sentencing decision had been expected.

Asked how Oyler had reacted, he added: "He's been fine with this whole thing since he got over the initial verdict."

The jury recommended the death sentence after a month-long trial.

Judge Morgan could have sentenced Oyler to life in prison without parole, the Los Angeles Times notes.



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