A preliminary hearing date was pushed back Wednesday for a 54-year-old transient who allegedly set the 2013 Silver Fire near Banning, which blackened more than 20,000 acres and injured more than a dozen people.
Stephen Patrick Medlock is charged with 22 counts of arson and 15 counts of arson causing damage to an inhabited structure.
During a status hearing at the Banning Justice Center, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan conferred with the prosecution and defense regarding scheduling and determined that the date previously set for the preliminary hearing, Dec. 10, was not viable. The judge selected Dec. 20 as the new date for proceedings, though it was uncertain whether that would hold so close to Christmas and with the possible lack of availability of witnesses.
Prosecutors have been trying to move the case to a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to try Medlock, since the start of the year.
The defendant was arrested in San Bernardino County in March 2018 and is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.
The Silver Fire erupted on Aug. 7, 2013, sweeping through the foothills and mountains south of Banning, into the San Bernardino National Forest.
Investigators allege that Medlock used a BIC-style lighter to ignite the blaze. He told sheriff’s detectives that the fire began accidentally when he laid the lighter down in the brush, and it malfunctioned, according to court papers.
The blaze charred 20,292 acres and damaged roughly 60 structures in the community of Poppet Flats. A mountain biker was seriously burned shortly after the fire broke out, and 12 firefighters suffered various minor to moderate injuries while trying to contain the brusher over a six-day period.
Evacuations were implemented in Poppet Flats, Mt. Edna, Silent Valley and Twin Pines during the height of the wildfire. The north half of Highway 243, from Twin Pines to Banning, was closed for more than a week as a public safety precaution.
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