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Prison Official: Suspect Was Jailed At the Time of Fire

October 3, 1994

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ A man who confessed to setting a fire that destroyed 365 homes and caused $528 million in damage was actually in a Mexican jail when the blaze started, a prison official said.

Jose Soto Martinez, a 26-year-old illegal immigrant, has been charged in the Laguna fire that began on Oct. 27, 1993. However, he was serving a 14- month sentence for robbery at the time, said Olga Aguayo Gonzalez, director of a prison in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Records show Jaime Saille Higuera, a name that Martinez also uses, was jailed from May 5, 1993, to July 8, 1994, Gonzalez said Saturday.

The felony complaint filed by Orange County prosecutors on Friday lists both names. Authorities said they needed to weigh the apparent alibi against Martinez’s extensive knowledge of the fire.

″It is too early to say we got our leg pulled or what’s accurate or not accurate,″ said Dan Runnestrand, chief of the Orange County Fire Department’s arson team.

Martinez also confessed to setting another smaller fire in August. His family maintains he falsely claimed to have set the fires because he feels safe in jail.

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