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Ex-fireman 'started deadly blaze'

A former firefighter accused of starting a wildfire that killed one person and destroyed dozens of homes in rural Northern California has pleaded not guilty to murder and arson.

Zane Peterson, 29, of Happy Valley, California, entered the plea at Shasta County Superior Court.

Prosecutors say he started two blazes that turned into the massive Clover Fire in Shasta County in September, which burned nearly 13 square miles and destroyed 68 homes and 128 other buildings.

It claimed the life of Brian Henry, 56, whose body was found in a mobile home ravaged by fire in the community of Igo, north of Sacramento..

Peterson is also accused of starting six other fires since September and faces hundreds of other arson-related charges, including arson causing great bodily injury and arson of inhabited dwellings. If convicted he faces 25 years to life for the murder charge and 90 years for the arson charges.

He is being held on three million dollars' (£1.8m) bail and is due back in court on January 2.

Peterson's arrest came after three months of investigation, said Captain Scott McLean of the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He said the case was continuing.

"There's still more work to be done on our part to make sure this comes to a positive conclusion," he said.

Records kept by the US Forest Service show Peterson once worked for Mendocino National Forest, but Stanton Florea, spokesman for the Pacific Southwest region, said he had not been employed by the forest service for more than a year.

AP

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