3 suspected in sparking Colby fire plead not guilty to federal charges

The three men accused of sparking last month's Colby fire near Glendora pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges.

The defendants -- Clifford Eugene Henry, 22, of Glendora, and Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 24, both described as transients -- are charged with two felony counts of setting timber afire, Assistant U.S. Atty. Amanda Bettinelli said.


They are also charged with four misdemeanor code violations, Bettinelli said. The felony counts each carry a maximum of five years in prison; the misdemeanors up to six months.

The defendants entered their pleas in a roughly five-minute appearance in a federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. A trial date was set for March 11, though a status conference was scheduled for Feb. 20.

The Colby fire scorched nearly 2,000 acres last month, destroying five homes and 17 other structures. At least three people, including two firefighters, were injured, officials said.

The men were arrested as they ran away from the fire as it initially spread in the hills near Glendora. A federal affidavit released Tuesday details 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 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 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.

Henry and Aguirre remain in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A. Jarrell was released to a residential treatment facility, where he is to remain until trial. He is being monitored electronically, Bettinelli said.

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