USA — Many of California’s most devastating wildfires in recent years have started as human accidents. The consequences have varied because of several factors, including whether investigators find negligence or recklessness. Here are a few examples:
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is not seeking charges against a 28-year-old target shooter suspected of starting the blaze west of Yosemite National Park on June 25 that destroyed 30 homes. The unidentified man was allegedly using a rifle with steel and lead ammunition near a creek when a bullet hit a rock and sparked.
U.S. Forestry officials said the blaze in Los Padres National Forest, which started June 8 and burned more than 81,000 acres and two structures before it was contained more than a month later, was ignited by a runaway campfire at a developed campground. Officials – who later banned all campfires in the park – said the investigation is not yet complete.
Los Angeles County prosecutors charged five young men with felonies, alleging that they recklessly started a November fire in Malibu that burned 55 homes. The case is pending. Officials said the defendants were at a cave where partiers gathered around an illegal campfire and that none of them notified authorities when the fire spread.
Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file charges against a 10-year-old boy suspected of playing with matches that ignited a fire in October that destroyed 21 homes in the Agua Dulce and Santa Clarita communities. “There is no evidence of intent on the part of the minor,” the district attorney’s office said in referring the case to social workers.
Schoolteacher Margaret Pavese was charged with a misdemeanor in a September fire east of Morgan Hill that burned four remote hunting cabins and 11 outbuildings. Santa Clara County prosecutors said Pavese used a corroded barrel to illegally burn trash around a cabin. They said felony charges weren’t warranted because Pavese didn’t mean to start the fire and quickly admitted what she had done. The case is pending.
A Riverside County jury acquitted Richard Brown of two felony charges after prosecutors accused him of starting the May 2004 Cerrito Fire, which burned 28 structures. Investigators said Brown sparked the fire by allowing a metal plate to drag behind his pickup truck, but Brown’s attorney argued that his client had not been aware of any danger – and that it was not clear sparks from the plate had caused the fire.
Construction worker Sergio Martinez was sentenced to six months in a work-furlough program after admitting he started an October 2003 blaze east of San Diego that killed 15 people and destroyed more than 2,200 homes. Martinez, who said he had started a signal fire after getting lost in the Cleveland National Forest while deer hunting, reportedly told victims in court, “I wish I was dead instead.” A federal judge noted Martinez’s remorse and said prison time would be pointless.