A Northern California blaze in 2020 that became part of one of the biggest and deadliest wildfires in state history was deliberately set to cover up the murder of a woman, officials have revealed. Now the suspect in that killing is also facing charges in the deaths of two fire victims.
Victor Serriteno, 29, of Vacaville, has been in prison awaiting trial in the death of 32-year-old Priscilla Castro, who vanished while on a date with him in August 2020. Her burned body was found the following month near Lake Berryessa in Solano County, about 60 miles west of Sacramento.
“Based on an extensive eight-month-long investigation, we believe Serriteno deliberately set the Markley Fire in an attempt to conceal his crime,” Solano County Sheriff Tom Ferrara said at a news conference Wednesday.
The deaths of 82-year-old Douglas Mai and 64-year-old Leon “James” Bone, whose bodies were found near where Castro’s body was discovered, had been blamed on the Markley fire. Those two deaths have now been classified as homicides.
The 30,000-acre Markley Fire merged with other wildfires to become part of the massive LNU Lightning Complex blaze, one of the largest ever in California. It burned 363,000 acres, killing six people and destroying 1,500 homes and other buildings.
“The moment a fire begins burning, there’s an element within Cal Fire that begins investigating how those started,” Solano County sheriff’s lieutenant Jackson Harris explained at the news conference. “And with the scope and size of this fire … unfortunately it just took a little bit of time.”
Area residents were appalled to hear the news. Many had thought the Markley Fire had been caused by lightning.
Serriteno has pleaded not guilty to Castro’s murder. He’ll be arraigned Friday on homicide and arson charges in the two men’s deaths in Solano County, officials said.
Castro’s family has been devastated again.
“I knew there were ugly people in the world, but I never knew they would do something to someone so close to us,” Castro’s sister Jasmine Castro told CBS Channel 13 Sacramento.
Her mother, Lisa Phelps Nunez, said: “You kind of pull anything out of your mind to see her again or that it didn’t really happen.”
Castro’s family understands what the families of the Markley Fire victims are going through.
“We know the pain,” said Jasmine Castro. Serriteno “doesn’t deserve to get away with not one bit of this,” she added.