Three men who were allegedly tossing papers into a campfire when winds sent embers into the brush north of Glendora, setting off the 1,900-acre Colby Fire, made their initial appearances Wednesday in federal court and were ordered to remain in custody.
Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora; Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a transient last known to live in Los Angeles; and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale, were each charged Tuesday with one federal count of unlawfully setting a fire and face up to five years in prison if convicted.
All three men were ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg to remain jailed, although she scheduled a detention hearing for 11 a.m. Friday for Jarrell. Arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 11.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli alleged outside court that the defendants "knew the conditions were dangerous in terms of the wisdom of setting fires," adding that additional charges could be filed.
The defendants appeared in court in street clothing, handcuffed and chained at the waist.
Rosenberg ordered Aguirre detained pending trial for reasons of flight risk, having no permanent residence and possible substance abuse issues.
Aguirre's mother and sister attended the hearing, but left without comment.
Henry Jr. was also detained due to risk of flight, lack of a stable living situation, and having no bail resources. Bettinelli told the judge that the defendant had three prior convictions -- for sexual battery, breaking and entering, and solicitation of lewd conduct -- in North Carolina and the Los Angeles area.
"There's been a lot of law enforcement contact with this individual," the prosecutor said, adding that Henry Jr. was allegedly spotted running from the fire scene at about 5:35 a.m. on Jan. 16, when the blaze began.
His attorney, Bernard Rosen, in unsuccessfully arguing for pretrial release, told the judge that Henry Jr. could live temporarily with a girlfriend if he was set free. The judge rejected the argument.
Rosenberg continued a detention/bail hearing for Jarrell until Friday, and recommended that he receive a psychological exam while in federal custody.
The three men were taken into custody shortly after the fire broke out last Thursday morning amid a red flag warning due to an elevated risk of wildfires. They were transferred to federal custody Tuesday.
A federal affidavit filed in support of the charges indicates that all three men admitted their roles in the fire.
In an interview with members of the Los Angeles County sheriff's arson unit and Glendora Police Department, Henry stated that it could have been his marijuana smoking that started the fire, and explained that the fire was about six feet away from him when he woke up early Thursday morning, according to the affidavit.
Henry also admitted that he knew it was dangerous to have a fire in dry grass because he has been camping since he was a child, according to the document.
Aguirre said in an interview that the fire was not started by Henry's smoking, but rather when the wind blew a piece of burning paper from their campfire into a bush, according to the affidavit.
Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said last week a resident called police shortly after the fire began and reported seeing at least two people near what was believed to be the origin of the blaze.
"Reportedly, they were up, they had set a campfire," Staab said. "They were tossing papers into the campfire and a breeze -- reportedly -- a breeze had kicked up and set this fire."
Staab described one suspect as "apologetic," and said one of the men admitted to setting the fire.
Staab said the area where the men were found was not a camping area, but people are known to camp in the hills above Glendora.
"They told us they were camping out," he said. "There's no evidence to indicate they were living up there."
The Colby Fire has destroyed five homes, damaged 17 others and injured six people, including five firefighters and a civilian.
In addition to the destruction of homes and structures, "you have a blackened national forest," Bettinelli said.