July 3rd, 2009 09:49 EST
Residental Fire and a Mosque: What do they have in Common?
YERMO " A 51-year-old man who once founded a mosque in Yermo died in a residential fire Saturday night.
Though officials from the San Bernardino County Coroner`s office have yet to release his name, family members have identified the man as Ali Mohammed, a landlord and former owner of a mosque that was burned down in February 2007.
According to Arden Wiltshire, a spokeswoman with the San Bernardino County Sheriff`s Department, an arson and bomb unit is investigating the incident.
Rescuers from the Yermo, Newberry and Marine Corps Logistics Base fire departments responded to a call Saturday at 9:49 p.m. reporting a fire on the 200 block of East Yermo Road.
After extinguishing the fire, rescuers found Mohammed`s remains. The body was severely burned, according to Sandy Fatland, coroner`s office spokeswoman.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined and there are no suspects, according to Wiltshire. She also said that no one else was reported injured.
The fire destroyed several small buildings on Mohammed`s property that neighbors said were rented out as apartments.
Yermo resident James Russell was inside his uncle`s house " across the street from where the fire took place " on Saturday when he heard a sudden loud noise.
There was a huge explosion " I felt it, " said Russell, who at first thought two train cars had collided on the nearby railroad tracks that run parallel to East Yermo Road. Several other neighbors on the block confirmed hearing the same noise.
Russell said he went outside and began hosing down the side of the house adjacent to the fire to prevent flying sparks from spreading the flames.
According to Joseph Zarling, Russell`s uncle, it took firefighters around 35 minutes to put out the fire.
That same property was the target of a February 2007 fire where two teen boys were arrested. At the time, rescuers responded to two other buildings in Yermo that were also set on fire that day " the Beanery and an old Union Pacific building.
Deputies arrested an 18-year-old, who was charged with two counts of felony arson, and a 16-year-old, who was cited for arson then released to his mother, for destroying buildings on Mohammed`s property " one of which was used as a mosque.
At the time, deputies said the fire did not appear to be a hate crime. Wiltshire did not know whether there was any connection between the mosque burning and Saturday`s incident.
Mohammed had said then that he did not know whether the incident was hate-driven or not, but said his family`s time in Barstow and Yermo had been peaceful so far.
The mosque housed up to 200 worshippers during the holidays, Mohammed had said. He estimated that there were about 22 Muslim families in Barstow and the surrounding areas. Mohammed came to the United States 29 years ago from Jordan and moved his family to Barstow in 2005.
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