The extraordinary manhunt for the former Los Angeles policeman suspected of three murders converged on a mountain cabin where it is believed he barricaded himself inside, engaged in a shoot-out that killed a deputy and never emerged as the home went up in flames.
A single gunshot was heard from within, and a charred body was found inside. If the man inside proves to be Christopher Dorner, the search for the most wanted man in America over the last week would have ended the way he had expected - death - with the police pursuing him.
Thousands of officers had been hunting for the former US Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for sacking him. They say he threatened to bring "warfare" to officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across the Southwest and Mexico.
A short time later, smoke began to rise from the cabin in the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Flames then engulfed the building - images that were broadcast on live television around the world. TV helicopters showed the fire burning freely with no apparent effort to extinguish it.
"We have reason to believe that it is him (Dorner)," said San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman. She noted there was gunfire between the person in the cabin and officers around the home before the blaze began.
Until Tuesday, authorities did not know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pick-up truck last week. At around 12.20pm local time, deputies received a report of a stolen pick-up truck, directly across the street from where law enforcement set up their command post last Thursday and not far from where Dorner's vehicle was abandoned. The owner of the stolen truck described the suspect as looking similar to Dorner.
A warden for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife travelling down Highway 38 recognised a man who fitted Dorner's description travelling in the opposite direction. The officer pursued the vehicle and there was a shooting at 12.42pm, in which the wildlife vehicle was hit several times and the suspect escaped on foot after crashing his truck. After barricading himself in the cabin, there was a second gun battle with San Bernardino County deputies, two of whom were shot. One died and the other underwent surgery.
The man believed to be Dorner never came out of the cabin, and a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The source later told the news agency that a charred body was found in the burned cabin.
A SWAT team had earlier surrounded the cabin and using an armoured vehicle, broke the windows, the official said. The officers then pumped gas into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: "Surrender or come out." The SWAT vehicle then tore down each of the cabin's four walls, like peeling back the layers of an onion, the source said.