Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Updated at 10:15 a.m., June, 1, 2015

The last of three men to be sentenced for starting the illegal campfire near Glendora that grew into the massive Colby fire was handed a three-year probationary term Monday and was ordered to pay a share of $9.1 million in restitution.

Jonathan Jarrell, 24, was found guilty a year ago of a felony count of building an illegal campfire in the Angeles National Forest and a misdemeanor count of causing timber, trees, brush and grass to burn in the forest without a permit.

His two co-defendants were sentenced last summer to short prison terms. Jarrell’s sentencing hearing was delayed for a year while he completed drug and mental health treatment.

U.S. District Judge George Wu said Jarrell was the least culpable of the three men who hiked up the Colby Trail high above Glendora the night of Jan. 15, 2014, built a fire ring out of rocks, and lit two illegal campfires on federal land.

The first fire — which was not among the charged offenses — went out before midnight, but around 4 a.m. the next day, the cold weather awakened the men.

Steven Aguirre and Clifford Henry Jr. built another campfire to keep warm and Jarrell added notebook paper to the blaze. Shortly afterward, a gust of wind blew embers into the surrounding brush.

The blaze consumed 1,992 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged 17 others while injuring six people, including five firefighters, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It also forced the evacuation of more than 3,500 people.

Wu described the case as “difficult” since there was no intended malice and the wildfire was “unintentional.”

Arguing for a prison sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli reminded the court that it was Jarrell’s addition of notebook paper to the campfire that ignited what became the Colby fire.

The prosecutor said that in the view of those who lost their homes in the blaze, putting Jarrell behind bars would be “some justice.”

Defense attorney John Hanusz countered that his client had done “really well” in treatment and was enrolled to begin studying psychology at a community college this fall.

Wu ordered that during Jarrell’s period of probation, he must complete 30 hours per month of community service, ideally in the area of psychology or youth assistance.

In a short statement to the court, Jarrell said he had “come a long way” in the past 18 months.

“I’ve decided what I want to do with my life,” he said.

The defendant looks very different, too, Wu said, remarking that Jarrell had gained weight since the charges were brought.

The judge said it was clear that Jarrell was now “doing much better” and there appeared to be “no threat of recidivism.”

Jarrell “is not an arsonist,” federal prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers. “Nevertheless … his reckless conduct resulted in a devastating fire.”

Hanusz said outside court that he was “very grateful for the consideration the judge gave and very pleased with the sentence.”

Co-defendants Aguirre and Henry were sentenced last August to prison terms of five and six months, respectively.

Jarrell and Aguirre were described as transients at the time of their arrests.

On the morning of the fire, when the embers, fanned by strong Santa Ana winds, started blowing, the men managed to stomp out one fiery patch, but another ignited.

At that point, Jarrell, Aguirre and Henry “panicked and fled,” leaving the wildfire “to the untender mercies of the Santa Ana winds,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Johns said during the trial of Jarrell’s co-defendants.

—City News Service

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