Two men were found guilty today of lighting an illegal campfire in the Glendora hills and then fleeing when what became the 1,900-acre Colby Fire began to rage out of control.
The jury deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours before convicting Clifford Henry Jr., 22, and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, of one felony and three misdemeanors counts of building an illegal campfire on federal land, setting fire to timber, trees and brush, and failing to control the blaze.
They each face up to 6 1/2 years in federal prison when sentenced Aug. 4.
"They made poor decisions -- as young men will," Dominic Cantalupo, Aguirre's lawyer, said in his closing argument.
A third suspect -- 23-year-old Jonathan Jarrell -- is set for trial May 20 on the same charges. His case was separated based on statements he made to investigators that may have implicated his co-defendants.
During the two-day trial, Henry Jr. and Aguirre both took the stand and admitted they hiked with Jarrell up a forest trail high above Glendora the night of Jan. 15, built a fire ring out of rocks, and lit two illegal campfires.
The first fire -- which was not among the charged offenses -- went out before midnight, but around 4 a.m. on Jan. 16, the cold weather awakened the men, the defendants told the jury.
Henry Jr. and Aguirre both testified they decided to build a second campfire to keep warm.
The random spot was "just an expanse of tinder, chaparral and dry brush" -- perfect conditions for a wildfire, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph O. Johns told the jury.
Shortly after Jarrell added notebook paper to the fire, "a gust of wind blew embers ... into the surrounding tender, dry grass of the Angeles National Forest," Johns said.
The men managed to stomp out one fiery patch, Johns said, but another ignited.
At that point, Aguirre, Henry Jr. and Jarrell "panicked and fled," leaving the wildfire "to the untender mercies of the Santa Ana winds," Johns said.
The blaze in the Angeles National Forest consumed 1,952 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged 17 others while injuring six people, including five firefighters, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It also destroyed 10 outbuildings and damaged another.
—City News Service