California State Senator Tom Berryhill’s Wildfire Aggravated Arson Bill Clears the Senate

California State Senator Tom Berryhill’s Wildfire Aggravated Arson Bill Clears the Senate

29 May 2014

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USA — Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) announces Senate passage of Senate Bill 930, legislation that would include the cost of fighting fires as part of the criteria for charging someone with aggravated arson. This measure ensures that law enforcement will maintain a valuable deterrent and an appropriate penalty to arson-caused wildland fires.

“It’s only May and CAL FIRE is already fighting fires all over California. It is just really bad out there. I can’t believe my district is staring down another massive wildfire. We are still salvaging timber from last year’s Rim Fire and now, 40 miles away in Mariposa, we are on fire again,” said Berryhill. “First and foremost is keeping firefighters and citizens safe, but you just can’t ignore the tremendous costs associated with fighting a wildfire. If you cause one, you should have the full force of the law come down on you. Pretty simple.”

SB 930 reenacts the law defining aggravated arson to include arson in which the damages, including the costs of fighting the fire, exceed $7 million. The aggravated arson penalty carries a longer 10-years-to-life sentence, but that statute expired on January 1, 2014. SB 930 would extend the statute to January 1, 2019.

“California is on constant red alert when it comes to wildfires. We’ve got to make sure prosecutors and law enforcement have what they need to throw the book at arsonists responsible for starting these things – and that should include factoring in the cost of fighting the fire.”

If fire suppression costs are no longer included in the calculation of damages, law enforcement would lose the ability to mandate that a person register as an aggravated arsonist, despite causing substantial costs. This bill helps protect the public’s safety and our natural resources.

As background:

The aggravated arson statute – particularly the threshold for aggravated arson based on the amount of damages – has been amended three times since its enactment. In 2004, the threshold was set at $5.6 million and $6,500,500 in 2009. According to the calculator provided on the website of the United States Department of Labor, the value of $6.5 million in 2010 is equal to just under $7 million in 2014, a rate of inflation of about $100,000 per year. As such, the value of the former aggravated arson threshold by 2015 would be about $7 million.

Since the $6.5 million threshold was set, 24 fires have met that standard. Data from across the west indicates that fire suppression costs of $6.5 million are not unexpected. The Bureau of Land Management recently published a study about the costs of six wildfires across the Western United States. Costs ranged from $9.5 million to $61.3 million.

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