Reading through the affidavit in support of charging the three men accused of starting the Colby Fire last week, one thing seems clear: their gut told them it wasn't okay to light a fire. Based on interviews with investigators, a fire was nonetheless lit. Some quotes:
- Clifford Henry, Jr. "said that he knew it was dangerous to have a fire in dry grass and he has been camping since he was a child" and "stated that it was crazy to have a campfire where such dry grass and dry wood was on the ground." In a later interview, "he stated that they had to go high up the trail to hide their campfire to prevent the police from coming. He believed that if they were caught with the campfire, they would be fined or kicked out of the area since it was illegal to have a campfire there."
- Jonathan Jarrell "acknowledged that California weather had been warm and with minimal rains" and "wasn't sure if campfires were allowed because they ... were not actually in a campground."
- Steven Aguirre "admitted that they knew they weren't supposed to have a campfire, but no one opposed having one."
There's a bit of he-said, she-said about who actually lit the conflagration that morning, when winds are said to have spread their campfire into a massive blaze that eventually destroyed five homes, but all three are being charged with starting it. (The technical charge is "unlawfully setting timber afire and aiding, abetting, and causing timber to be unlawfully set afire," a felony offense.)
Of the many lessons the Colby Fire can teach us, one sticks out to me: when it comes to the dangers of Mother Nature, your gut instinct is something to listen to. If the affidavit is accurate, their instincts were ignored, partly for fun (they admitted to having a fire that was successfully put out before going to sleep) and partly for keeping warm -- they woke up to cold air and windy conditions and started a second fire around dawn. It blew out of control and later charred some 2,000 acres in Angeles National Forest and the city of Glendora.
I've embedded the affidavit below. It's 19 pages, but for anyone affected by the Colby Fire, or are just interested in all things Angeles National Forest, it's worth the read.