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US police denied Wednesday deliberately setting fire to a mountain cabin in which an alleged cop killer is thought to have died, saying they faced a warzone-like shootout after a six-day manhunt.
Christopher Dorner, the 33-year-old former policeman accused of killing four people, was believed dead, although experts have not yet positively identified the remains found in the burnt-out cabin, police officials said.
Dorner became the subject of intense debate on social media during the week he spent on the run, after posting a chilling online manifesto threatening to kill police he blamed for his 2008 sacking, but also alleging unfair treatment.
The manhunt came to a climax Tuesday in a cabin near the snow-covered ski resort of Big Bear, two hours east of Los Angeles, where he died after a gunfight with SWAT marksmen. He was earlier spotted with a stolen vehicle.
Dramatic video footage emerged of officers surrounding the cabin where the suspect had barricaded himself, with a barrage of gunfire audible, including some possibly from exploding ammunition as fire took hold of the cabin.
"It was like a warzone, and our deputies continued to go in... and try to neutralize" the suspect, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters. "The rounds kept coming, but our deputies didn't give up.
"They are true heroes," he said in the latest update about 24 hours after the final shootout and inferno.
Human remains were found overnight in the charred debris of the cabin near Big Bear. LA police lifted a state of alert but maintained protection for officers and families Dorner threatened in his manifesto.
"We do believe that it is the body of Christopher Dorner, but we don't know for a certainty," said LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, while McMahon said DNA tests should confirm his identity "soon."
The ex-LAPD cop went on the run after allegedly killing a couple and a policeman and wounding three people in a series of shootings. Another officer was killed and one wounded in a shootout before the cabin blaze.
Dorner was spotted Tuesday after a car was stolen in Big Bear. Wildlife patrol officers gave chase, but Dorner then crashed the truck, and took off in a new car after holding up a passing motorist.
A short time later, with multiple cars in pursuit, Dorner abandoned the car and headed off on foot, toward an empty cabin some distance from the road, before engaging in a shootout that killed one officer and wounded another.
Hundreds of officers swarmed into the area. Footage obtained by CBS television showed lines of armed officers sheltering behind vehicles and trees, watching the cabin.
A long barrage of apparent gunfire can be heard on the video, as officers look on, taking occasional aim. As they watch, smoke begins to emerge from the cabin, which was eventually engulfed in flames.
The Los Angeles Times reported that flammable gas was thrown into the cabin after Dorner, a trained marksman, refused to come out voluntarily.
Sheriff McMahon confirmed that officers had thrown in a kind of pyrotechnic tear gas, which can catch light. But he denied they deliberately set fire to the cabin.
"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr Dorner out," he said.
Dorner attracted a huge online following, including defenders backing his mistreatment claims. The support extended offline: on Tuesday, people held signs reading "Don't shoot Dorner" on the roads near Big Bear.
Experts said it was a strange phenomenon.
"The manhunt and chase, the fact that he was able to evade police and FBI were fascinating," University of Southern California Annenberg Program on Online Communities director Karen North told AFP.
"That said, the 'likes' on Facebook and the support shown elsewhere were really focused on the manifesto and the fact that he spoke against... discrimination, racism, brutality, policy corruption, unfair firing practices.
"But Dorner was killing innocent people and making entire communities feel fear and terror. There is nothing sympathetic about that. I cannot imagine that he could become an icon, because he is not a sympathetic character."