The extraordinary manhunt for Dorner, suspected of three murders, had converged on a mountain cabin where he was believed to have barricaded himself inside, engaged in a shootout that killed a deputy, and then never emerged as the home went up in flames.
A single gunshot was heard from within.
If the man inside proves to be Christopher Dorner, the search for the most wanted man in America over the last week would have ended the way he had expected - in death, with the police pursuing him.
Thousands of officers had been on the hunt for the former Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing. They say he threatened to bring "warfare" to officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across the Southwest and Mexico.
"Enough is enough. It's time for you to turn yourself in. It's time to stop the bloodshed," LAPD Commander Andrew Smith said at a news conference held outside police headquarters in Los Angeles, a starkly different atmosphere than last week when officials briefed the news media under tight security with Dorner on the loose.
A short time after Smith spoke Tuesday, smoke began to rise from the cabin in the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
Flames then engulfed the building - images that were broadcast on live television around the world. TV helicopters showed the fire burning freely with no apparent effort to extinguish it.
Until Tuesday, authorities didn't know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pickup last week.
Around 12:20 p.m. local time Tuesday, deputies got a report of a stolen pickup truck, authorities said. The location was directly across the street from where law enforcement had set up its command post on Thursday and not far from where Dorner's pickup was abandoned. The owner of the vehicle taken Tuesday described the suspect as looking similar to Dorner.
A warden for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife traveling down Highway 38 recognized a man who fit Dorner's description traveling in the opposite direction. The officer pursued the vehicle, and there was a shooting in which the wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times and the suspect escaped on foot after crashing his truck.
After holing up in the cabin, there was a second gun battle with San Bernardino County deputies, two of whom were shot. One died and the other was expected to live after undergoing surgery.
"We're heartbroken," Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte said of the deputy's death and the wounding of his colleague. "Words can't express how grateful we are for the sacrifice those men have made in defense of the community and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families."
Police say Dorner began his run on Feb. 6 after they connected the slayings of a former police captain's daughter and her fiance with an angry Facebook rant they said he posted. Threats against the LAPD led officials to assign officers to protect officers and their families.
Within hours of the release of photos of the 6-foot, 270-pound man described as armed and "extremely dangerous," police say, Dorner unsuccessfully tried to steal a boat in San Diego to flee to Mexico and opened fire on two patrol cars in Riverside County, shooting three officers and killing one.