Colby Fire Suspects Plead Not Guilty

Suspects Jonathan Jarrell, Steven Aguirre, and Clifford Henry Jr. | Photos: Courtesy Glendora Police Department.

Three men who allegedly started the 1,900-acre Colby Fire pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal charges of illegally setting and failing to control an unauthorized campfire.

Clifford Henry Jr., Steven Aguirre, and Jonathan Jarrell each face two felony and four misdemeanor counts of unlawfully causing and failing to control an illegal campfire on federal land. If convicted as charged, they could face up to 12 years in federal prison, plus fines, restitution, and federal probation.

The defendants were ordered to appear for trial before U.S. District Judge George H. Wu on March 11, but that trial date is expected to be postponed.

The three men were arrested shortly after the fire broke out Jan. 16 amid a red flag warning due to strong winds, high temperatures, and bone-dry conditions.

A federal affidavit suggests all three men admitted roles in the fire.

Aguirre, 21, said the fire started when the wind blew a piece of burning paper from the men's campfire into a bush, according to the affidavit.

Glendora police Chief Tim Staab said area residents spotted at least two people near the origin of the blaze.

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"Reportedly, they were up, they had set a campfire," Staab said earlier. "They were tossing papers into the campfire and a breeze -- reportedly -- a breeze had kicked up and set this fire."

"They told us they were camping out," Staab continued. "There's no evidence to indicate they were living up there."

Officials said Henry Jr., 22, is a Glendora resident, while Aguirre and 23-year-old Jarrell are transients.

Henry Jr. and Aguirre are in federal custody pending trial. Jarrell was ordered into residential drug treatment earlier.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli said earlier that Henry Jr. has convictions for sexual battery, breaking and entering, and solicitation of lewd conduct in North Carolina and the Los Angeles area.

The prosecutor said Jarrell started a fire in Louisiana that damaged his mom's home in 2009.

The blaze in the Angeles National Forest consumed 1,952 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged 17 others while injuring six people, including five firefighters, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It also destroyed 10 outbuildings and damaged another.

Bettinelli said earlier that the defendants "knew the conditions were dangerous in terms of the wisdom of setting fires."

In addition to the destruction of homes and structures, "you have a blackened national forest," she said.

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