John Cádiz Klemack
Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says a fatal firefight began after a warden recognized a man who appeared to be fugitive Christopher Dorner as he drove down Highway 38. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Highway 38 near Angelus Oaks for the NBC4 News at 9 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2013.
Charred human remains were found Tuesday night in the debris of a burned-out cabin in the Big Bear area, where law enforcement officials were involved in a shootout with a man believed to be a fired LAPD officer wanted for at least three shooting deaths, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
"Identification will be attempted through forensic means," the sheriff's department said in a statement released at 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Hours before the announcement, leading law enforcement agencies and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa denied reports that the charred body of Christopher Dorner was discovered in the rubble.
NBC4 reported the discovery based on a report from NBC News, citing a source inside the Los Angeles mayor's office. Villaraigosa told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that, contrary to reports, officials have not found the body and that the cabin was still too hot to enter as of 8 p.m.
Officials at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department also refuted reports that Dorner's body had been found inside the burned-out cabin.
"We believe (the suspect) is still inside that cabin that caught fire … (but) no one has been inside the cabin," said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
"We believe that the person that barricaded himself inside the cabin and engaged in gunfire with our deputies and other law enforcement officers is still inside there even though the building burned."
Homicide investigators are on scene, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
During an 8 p.m. news conference, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said that the LAPD will continue protecting law enforcement officers and their families that were named as possible targets in an 11,400-word manifesto apparently written by Dorner.
"Until we have confirmation, A, that a body was located and, B, that that body belongs to Christopher Dorner, the Los Angeles Police Department is gonna continue on with its high-profile protection detail of our officers," Smith said.
He added that it could take days or weeks to positively identify any body that may be recovered from the charred rubble.
The manhunt for Dorner turned into a fatal gunfight earlier in the day involving deputies and a standoff that burned a cabin in which authorities said they believe Dorner was barricaded.
One San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy was killed and another was wounded in a shootout before the standoff, according San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon.
The man in the cabin never emerged Tuesday afternoon after authorities shot tear gas into the structure and ordered him to surrender, an anonymous law enforcement official told NBC4.
Several walls of the cabin were knocked down with an armored vehicle, then authorities heard a single gunshot from inside, the source said.
The cabin was engulfed in flames shortly thereafter, but it's not clear how the fire started.
"It's my understanding that since the fire started, there has been no gunfire," Bachman said at an early evening news conference.
She said authorities have had no communication with the person in the cabin.
The cabins are about 5 miles southwest -- as the crow flies, over a mountain range -- from the town of Big Bear, where Dorner's burned-out vehicle was discovered Thursday after he allegedly shot and killed a Riverside police officer.
On Tuesday, deputies initially responded to a stolen vehicle report at 12:22 p.m. in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. A man matching Dorner's description stole a white 2005 RAM pickup, according to the report.
Rick Heltebrake, 61, told NBC4 that a man resembling Dorner approached him with a rifle and demanded the pickup. Heltebrake said the man assured him "I don't want to hurt you," and ordered him to take his dog and get out of the truck.
The man believed to be Dorner allegedly held a woman and her daughter, both housekeepers, hostage at a Big Bear cabin near a command center that was set up to coordinate the multi-agency search, according to sources inside the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The pair was interviewed by investigators and released.
The gunfight with the man believed to be Dorner began after a California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden noticed a driver matching the fugitive's description driving on Highway 38 at about 12:45 p.m. near Glass Road.
The warden attempted to pursue the driver but the chase was hindered by narrow roads, said Lt. Patrick Foy, with CDFW.
The warden then called for backup and three additional CDFW wardens in two separate trucks began pursuing the driver, Foy said, adding that all responding officers are part of a six-warden unit assigned to the manhunt.
Foy said the man was driving a purple Nissan -- which he may have commandeered from the two women hostages -- when he was first spotted by the CDFW warden. The driver crashed the Nissan before allegedly carjacking a white pickup truck, Foy said.
The driver opened fire on the truck carrying two CDFW wardens, Foy said. The pair, whose vehicle was shot numerous times, was not injured. But one of the wardens was close enough to the shooter to note that he looked like Dorner, Foy said.
He said that one of the CDFW wardens exited the truck and fired some 15 rounds at the suspect's vehicle, though it was not clear if the driver had been struck by the gunfire. The driver then fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin, authorities said.
Responding deputies encountered the gunman, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said.
"A brief exchange of gunfire occurred between the suspect and our deputies," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.
The two deputies were transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where one was declared dead.
Dorner was believed to have an arsenal of weapons that includes a semi-automatic rifle.
Highways 38 and 330 were closed for several hours in the Big Bear area. Officers in protective gear were checking vehicles at a Highway 38 roadblock south of Big Bear.
SWAT units and armored vehicles were seen traveling up the mountain road.
The Bear Valley Unified School District placed several campuses on lockdown.
The search for Dorner has focused on the San Bernardino Mountain resort community of Big Bear since Thursday, when his burned-out pickup was discovered south of Big Bear Lake. About 30 law enforcement personnel remained in Big Bear Tuesday morning.
Dorner's Nissan Titan pickup was found about seven hours after he allegedly opened fire on officers in Riverside County. The search for Dorner, fired from the LAPD in 2008, has included Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties and the San Diego area.
Teams on the ground and in the air searched the Big Bear area after Thursday's discovery of Dorner's burning pickup, but authorities said there had been no reported sightings of Dorner.
On Tuesday, investigators asked residents in the cities of Big Bear Lake, Moonridge, Sugarloaf, 7 Oaks Community (Converse Flats), Bluff Lake, Jenks Lake and Angelus Oaks who have surveillance cameras at their residences to review the video, starting on midnight Feb. 7.
Dorner was identified Feb. 6 as a suspect in the shooting deaths of a couple, including the daughter of a former LAPD captain, in Irvine. He was charged with murder Monday in the Feb. 7 shooting death of Riverside Officer Michael Crain.
More than 1,000 tips have been received since the LAPD announced a $1 million reward in the case.