A former US cop wanted for multiple murders was believed barricaded in a burning mountain cabin on Tuesday, officials said, as a six-day California manhunt appeared to be moving toward an endgame.
One deputy was killed and one injured in a firefight with Christopher Dorner, who has been on the run since last week when he allegedly killed three people, and threatened to gun down more police in a chilling online manifesto.
While it was not certain that Dorner was in the cabin, near the Big Bear ski resort, two hours east of Los Angeles, CNN reported that a SWAT team had fired tear gas into the cabin before the fire erupted.
"We still have an active scene," said San Bernadino County Sheriff's office spokeswoman Cindy Bachman, after live TV pictures showed flames and smoke engulfing the cabin.
"There's a subject barricaded in a cabin. At this time that cabin is on fire," she told reporters, adding that he "has been described as looking similar to Christopher Dorner, and we have reason to believe it is him."
Police launched a massive manhunt last week for Dorner, after he allegedly killed a couple and a policeman, and injured another three officers, while pledging online to kill officers in revenge for his 2008 sacking.
LA Police Department (LAPD) spokesman Andrew Smith said Tuesday's incident started when a vehicle was reported stolen from another cabin near Big Bear by someone who looked like Dorner.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's office immediately launched a ground and air search, and located the vehicle nearby.
"Shortly thereafter, this individual barricaded himself in one of the cabins there and an exchange of gunfire occurred. During that exchange of gunfire, two officers were injured," he said.
Broadcaster KTLA 5 said more than 200 officers were surrounding the cabin near Big Bear, where Dorner's pickup truck was found last week shortly after the manhunt was launched.
Smith, speaking before the cabin went up in flames, said: "The best thing for him would be to surrender and allow us to take him into custody and he can face the criminal justice system."
Earlier, local media reported that the suspect had initially tied up a couple in a cabin, before fleeing. Smith did not confirm those details.
He added that officers were not 100 percent sure that Dorner was the suspect in question.
"We're not positive. And until we get this guy in custody, until he's in handcuffs and in jail, we're not going to know for sure," Smith said.
"They said he was similar in appearance... He was up in that area at one time. So, you know, the likelihood is that it's him, but we can't say for sure."
The disgruntled ex-cop threatened to murder police and their families in his rambling manifesto, pledging to "bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty."
Some 50 LAPD officers and families have been placed under special protection. The couple murdered two weeks ago included the daughter of a former LAPD officer linked to Dorner's dismissal.
Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte, also speaking before the cabin fire, said it was only a question of time before Dorner was caught.
"We have faith in law enforcement personnel up here that he won't be able to hide for long," he said. "We're certainly hoping that he can be captured or subdued without any more loss of life or injury to law enforcement personnel."
LAPD spokesman Smith said: "Everyone is very hopeful that this thing ends without any further bloodshed. We hope we can take this guy into custody and hope he doesn't hurt anybody else."