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Suspects accused of sparking Colby fire charged with federal crime

Three men accused of accidentally sparking the Colby fire, which has scorched an estimated 1,952 acres near Glendora, were charged by federal prosecutors Tuesday with illegally setting a campfire.

Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 24, of Irwindale; and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, described as a Los Angeles transient, were arrested just hours after the blaze began last Thursday.

The men could each face a five-year sentence if convicted of the felony federal offense, federal officials said. Their first appearance in federal court is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

All three men have admitted a role in starting the fire, according to a federal affidavit filed in support of the charges. 

Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab said the trio started an illegal campfire near Colby Trail and Glendora Mountain Road because they were cold. They were allegedly tossing paper into the fire when a gust of wind “just blew embers all over the place,” Staab said.

The chief said there was “absolutely no evidence that these three men started the fire on purpose.”

Jarrell told federal authorities that a "gust of wind came out of nowhere" and blew pieces of a notebook into a bush. He said he tried to call 911, but there was no cell phone reception. 

"All three men got up and tried to stomp out the bush that was on fire," the affidavit said.

Henry acknowledged that puttiing paper in the campfire was "not a good idea." 

He also acknowledged the dangers of having a campfire without water to put it out, under poor weather conditions "and basically doing several stupid little things." He "stated that it was crazy to have a campfire where such dry grass and dry wood was on the ground," according to the affidavit. 

Camping was not allowed in the area, which had been under a red-flag warning because of extreme heat and dry conditions. Glendora Mountain Road had been closed as a result.

“They just didn’t show very much common sense this morning in starting this camp fire,” Staab said Thursday. “Especially when it’s breezy out? Especially when it’s the driest season on record? Please.”

On Tuesday, officials said the fire had charred 1,952 acres and was 98% contained as it burned into the Angeles National Forest. At least five homes had been destroyed, and 17 other structures damaged.

At least three people, including two firefighters, were injured, officials said.

[For the record, 8:16 p.m. PST, Jan. 21, 2014: A previous version of this post incorrectly said the men were charged Monday.]

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