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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Eagle Fire: Los Coyotes Indians get 6-year sentences

Two who set Eagle fire will get 6-year sentences

 — Two young Los Coyotes Indian reservation tribal members admitted Friday that they started last summer’s Eagle fire, which scorched more than 14,000 acres of the reservation and state park land and cost $15 million to extinguish.
Jeremy Ortieaglez and James Durbin, both 24, changed their plea to guilty in Vista Superior Court and will be sentenced next month under a plea deal to six years each in state prison.
The two men admitted they set fire to a structure and forest land but more serious charges that could have sent them to prison for life were dismissed because, Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez said, authorities do not believe they intended to start a big fire.
The Eagle fire burned nearly 15,000 acres on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in July
Jeremy Ortiz — Charlie Neuman
Instead, Perez told Judge Dan Goldstein, who approved the plea deal, Ortiz and Durbin meant only to burn down a guard shack that a private company had erected on the reservation.
The Eagle fire burned nearly 15,000 acres on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in July
James Durbin — Charlie Neuman
Perez said psychological evaluations, their age, the fact they were drunk at the time of the fire and the “lack of sophistication of their crimes” led her office to conclude they didn’t intend “to cause the extensive damage which they caused.”
Proof that they didn’t mean to start a bigger fire is that after the shack was destroyed, Ortiz and Durbin fled to a house from which they had to be rescued by firefighters as flames approached.
Perez did not comment on motive, but in other court proceedings it has been shown that Ortiz’s and Durbin’s actions were connected to an ongoing dispute involving tribal members and the owners of the Eagle Rock Training Center. The company had entered into a lease the year before with the tribe to operate a military training and filming business on the reservation for 25 years.
The training center has since been evicted from the reservation, and a tribal court judge has ruled the lease was not legal. The business also recently abandoned a federal-court case seeking to uphold the lease arrangement.
The fire, which began July 21, scorched 14,100 acres of grass, brush and trees on the reservation and adjoining Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
More than 2,100 firefighters, supported by air tankers and helicopters, prevented the flames from threatening the community of Borrego Springs. Eighteen firefighters were injured battling the blaze.
Perez said the deal was struck after consulting with the victims of the fire: Cal Fire, state parks, the training center, and the reservation.
According to court records, Ortiz admitted to Cal Fire investigators that he poured gas on the structure while Durbin lit the blaze. Durbin told investigators Ortiz lit the fire but that he was with him and knew what the plan was.
Source: U-T San Diego - Link


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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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