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Transient charged with igniting fire that destroyed four Palm Desert businesses

A 30-year-old transient accused of igniting a fire that destroyed four businesses in a Palm Desert strip mall was charged today with recklessly causing a fire resulting in property damage and other offenses.

Natalie Ann Marie Radu was arrested Sunday following a Cal Fire arson investigation at the Plaza de Monterey Shopping Center. Along with the felony count, Radu is charged with a sentence-enhancing allegation of perpetrating arson in an area under a state of emergency.

Radu pleaded not guilty during an arraignment before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Melissa Hale, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for April 26 at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.

The judge ordered Radu held in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

The strip mall, located near the intersection of Country Club Drive and Monterey Avenue, sustained massive damage in the fire that erupted shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday.

According to county fire officials, multiple engine crews were sent to the two-alarm blaze and encountered flames raging in one business, spreading rapidly to three neighboring ones in the 30,000-square-foot single-story building.

Along with county personnel, firefighters from the Cathedral City and Palm Springs fire departments joined in the containment effort. However, the flames ultimately ravaged Coffee D'Bouteaque, Miracle Ear Hearing-Aid Center, Papa Dan's Pizza and Reverse Mortgage Works, according to published reports.

A sheriff's deputy who was assisting at the scene suffered unspecified minor injuries, but no firefighter or civilian injuries were reported.   

The fire was completely contained at 9:54 a.m. Sunday, according to officials.

Deputies detained Radu at the scene, but there was no word regarding how she was identified as the alleged perpetrator.   

Cal Fire law enforcement officers conducted an investigation and determined the blaze was "recklessly caused,'' according to the agency. No other details were provided.   

Radu was arrested without incident.   

Court records show that she has prior misdemeanor convictions for possession of controlled substances, presenting false identification to a peace officer and possession of drug paraphernalia. There was an active warrant for her arrest when she was taken into custody, connected with a driving under the influence of drugs charge filed in May 2022.   

The state of emergency connected with the allegations refers to the Tropical Storm Hilary proclamation issued by the governor in August 2023. The impacts were significant in some parts of the Coachella Valley.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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