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Two men convicted in devastating Colby fire near Glendora

Two men convicted of starting illegal campfire that sparked Colby fire near Glendora
Men face prison time in connection with 1,900-acre Colby fire; third defendant's trial starts next week
Men spotted running from Colby fire in Glendora convicted of starting illegal campfire

Two men were convicted Friday of starting an illegal campfire that sparked the Colby fire, which scorched about 1,900 acres near Glendora in January.

A federal jury found Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora, and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, described as a transient, guilty of one felony and three misdemeanor counts of lighting and failing to control an illegal campfire, the U.S. attorney's office said.

They are scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 4. Federal prosecutors said the men face up to 6 1/2 years in prison, a $280,000 fine and restitution for firefighting costs and damage to homes and other structures.

The trial for a third defendant, Jonathan Jarrell, 24, also described as a transient, will begin on Tuesday.

The Colby fire, sparked the morning of Jan. 16, destroyed five homes and 17 other structures as it burned near Glendora and neighboring Azusa. At least three people, including two firefighters, were injured, officials said.

The three men were arrested as they ran away from the fire as it initially spread in the hills near Glendora.

A federal affidavit detailed their arrests and subsequent interviews with investigators, during which they offered conflicting information about how the fire began but ultimately said it was a bad idea.

The men initially denied starting the fire, though Henry said it might have been sparked because of his "marijuana smoking," the affidavit said.

They later said they had hiked to the area the night of Jan. 15 and started a campfire, building a rock circle around it and later dousing it with dirt, the affidavit said. They said they woke up cold the next morning and began building another fire — even though the winds had picked up.

Jarrell threw a notebook into the fire as a gust of wind "came out of nowhere," carrying the burning paper into a bush, the affidavit said. The men told investigators they tried to stamp out the flames but couldn't. They then ran down the hillside.

The men admitted the area was dry and said they took care to ensure the first fire didn't escape its rock circle, the affidavit said. They also said they knew they were in an area off-limits to both camping and campfires and hiked to a spot high enough on the hillside where they thought their fire wouldn't be spotted.

Henry told investigators it was "not a good idea" to put paper in the fire, and that it was "crazy" to start a campfire in an area so dry. Starting the fire was "dumb," he later said.

Investigators determined the blaze started on federal land not far from the fire ring the men built, the affidavit said. 

In March, heavy rains hit the region, prompting concerns about mudslides in the fire-damaged hillsides. Hundreds of homes were evacuated as residents and officials built concrete and sandbag barriers protecting houses and streets.

Some mudflow occurred but no major damage was reported.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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