Delta Fire arrest: How investigators tied Shasta County woman to 63,000-acre fire

Matt Brannon
Redding Record Searchlight

A Shasta County woman was arrested this week and accused of setting the 2018 Delta Fire, which destroyed about 20 homes and burned more than 63,000 acres, coming within 15 miles of Dunsmuir and sparking an evacuation warning in the town.

Cynthia Ann LeRoux, 57, of Mountain Gate has been charged with 20 felony arson counts in connection to the Delta Fire and two smaller fires, Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett said. 

Bridgett said the case includes two charges for arson causing great bodily injury to two truck drivers who had been passing through the Delta Fire area. She said the fire forced the closure of Interstate 5 for several days.

If convicted, Bridgett said the charges against LeRoux have a maximum penalty of "well over 50 years." Bridgett said she was not able to discuss a potential motive for the fires at this time. 

Firefighters keep standing guard along I-5 north of the Pollard Flat exit as the Delta Fire flares up in the background on Friday evening, Sept. 7, 2018. (Hung T. Vu/Special to the Record Searchlight)

Adding to the weight of the charges is that the fires were set during a local state of emergency due to the 230,000-acre Carr Fire — a time when firefighting resources were already stretched thin, officials said when announcing the arrest. The 46,000-acre Hirz fire was also burning at the time.

Reports show how officials tied LeRoux to Delta Fire

Multiple reports filed in court along with the charges against LeRoux reveal how law enforcement tied her to the Delta Fire in an investigation that lasted two and a half years. The reports note LeRoux denied starting the fire in multiple interviews with investigators. 

Cynthia Ann LeRoux

Investigators said the Delta Fire started Sept. 5, 2018, near an encampment on a rural, private piece of land that had a motorhome and shed. At the beginning of the case, investigators found discarded mail in a fire ring by the motorhome. Three names were on the mail, one of which was LeRoux's, according to the reports. 

After speaking with the other two people, investigators said LeRoux was the only one who claimed to have been at the scene of the fire around the time it started. That, combined with her history with fires, made her a primary suspect, according to reports. 

The reports stated she had been charged with seven counts of arson in Butte County in 1993 but was found "not guilty by reason of insanity."

nullBased on recent suspicious fires in the area, investigators believed the Delta Fire was intentionally set. Smoking and equipment failures were considered possible but not likely, according to the reports. The reports don't indicate how exactly LeRoux allegedly set the fires. 

Two days after the fire started, investigators met with LeRoux at a Taco Bell for an interview. At the end of the meeting, they collected a napkin and straw she used for DNA evidence. Later, investigators said there was "strong evidence" that DNA from cigarette butts found in the area the fire started came from LeRoux, according to the reports. 

Investigators obtained a search warrant for her Google and Facebook accounts, which included location data showing she was on the property where the fire started, when it was started, according to the reports. 

The Delta Fire continued to burn on the ridge line east of I-5 just south of the Gibson Road exit on Friday evening, Sept. 7, 2018. (Hung T. Vu/ Special to the Record Searchlight)

LeRoux was taken into custody without incident at her home Wednesday around 10:15 a.m. and remains in county jail with bail set at $1 million, said J.T. Zulliger, Battalion Chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 

The government's cost of containing the Delta Fire was about $60 million, according to the reports. 

The two smaller fires LeRoux is charged with starting took place in December 2018 and March 2020 — the former being "mere feet away" from where the Delta Fire was set, Bridgett said. 

Bridgett asked anyone else who might have been injured in the Delta Fire to call the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations Unit at 530-226-2783.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett

"This announcement is a timely reminder of the consequences of setting fires," Bridgett said. "It is a timely reminder to those who want to harm our community by setting fires to think twice, as we will prosecute you."

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Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today