POLICE have found human remains inside a burn-out cabin where an ex-cop who led authorities on a six-day manhunt had barricaded himself before shooting another officer.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's department said that identification of the remains would be attempted using forensic analysis because the cabin burst into flames.
But they are believed to be those of fugitive former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner, 33, suspected of a revenge-fuelled killing spree in the region.
The death of a sheriff's deputy in the shootout at the cabin, located in the snow-covered, wooded hills of the San Bernardino National Forest, northeast of LA, brought to four the number of killings Dorner is suspected of committing. A second sheriff's deputy was wounded in last night’s gunfight.
An angry, rambling manifesto posted last week on Dorner's Facebook page claimed he had been wrongly terminated from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008. He vowed to seek revenge by unleashing "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" on police officers and their families.
The climax to the saga, following several days in which Dorner eluded law enforcement, unfolded after police learned that a gunman they believed was him had broken into a home near the ski resort community of Big Bear Lake, tied up a couple and stole their vehicle, authorities said.
State game wardens later spotted the stolen vehicle and gave chase. The suspect crashed the car in the course of his getaway attempt, then quickly commandeered a pickup truck at gunpoint from another motorist and continued to flee, said Lieutenant Patrick Foy of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
As game wardens pursued him, the suspect fired at them from the window of the truck, and one of the game officers stopped his truck and fired back with a high-powered rifle, Foy said, adding that he did not know whether the suspect was hit.
Several bullets struck the warden's vehicle, but officers got close enough at one point to get a good look at his face and recognised him as Dorner, Foy said.
Bachman said the suspect ultimately abandoned the pickup and fled on foot into the woods to a cabin believed to be vacant, where he holed up inside and exchanged fire with sheriff's deputies who closed in on the building.
Local television news footage of the shootout showed several officers taking cover from a barrage of gunfire audible in the broadcast. Sheriff John McMahon later confirmed that one deputy was killed and another wounded in the ensuing shootout.
After a lull in the gunfire, the cabin suddenly caught fire, with smoke and flames seen engulfing the structure. Loud popping sounds could be heard from inside.
Bachman said a "smoke bomb" had been set off at the cabin before the fire started, but she was uncertain if it had been detonated by the gunman or by law enforcement authorities.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has called the search for Dorner the most extensive manhunt in the region's history.
Dorner's last confirmed encounter with authorities came early last Thursday, when police said he ambushed two policemen at a traffic light in Riverside, about 100km east of Los Angeles. One officer was killed and the other wounded.
Dorner, a former Navy officer, is also suspected of exchanging gunfire on Thursday with police and wounding one officer in nearby Corona.
Law enforcement later that day converged on the Big Bear area when a pickup truck identified as the one Dorner had been driving was found abandoned and burning in the snow, launching an intense search of the mountain as Dorner seemed to vanish.
He first came to public notice last Wednesday when police identified him as a suspect in the slayings of a campus security officer and his fiancee, the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain. In the manifesto posted on his Facebook page, Dorner blamed the captain for his dismissal from the LAPD.
The couple, Keith Lawrence, 27, and Monica Quan, 28, an assistant college basketball coach, were found shot dead on February 3 in their car on the top level of a parking structure in the city of Irvine, south of Los Angeles.
Quan's father, Randy Quan, had represented Dorner in disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal after a police inquiry found Dorner had made false statements accusing a superior officer of using excessive force, police said.
Riverside County prosecutors have formally charged Dorner with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder in connection with Thursday's shootings of police officers.
Authorities posted a $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner's capture, an amount they said was the largest ever offered in a Southern California criminal investigation.