Covering the fight against California's wildfires

Colby Fire Suspects Appear in Federal Court

Three men are facing federal charges of unlawfully setting timber afire

By Steven Covelman and Kim Baldonado
|  Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014  |  Updated 8:59 PM PDT
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The three men accused of setting the Colby Fire made their first court appearance. Kim Baldonado reports from downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

Kim Baldonado

The three men accused of setting the Colby Fire made their first court appearance. Kim Baldonado reports from downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

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Aerial Video: Fire in Angeles National Forest

Wind sends brush fire embers into trees in a neighborhood below Angeles National Forest. Raw video from Thursday Jan. 16, 2014.
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Three Southern California men accused of starting the destructive Colby Fire above Glendora after their campfire burned out of control appeared in court for the first time Wednesday.

Clifford Eugene Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora, Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, a transient last known to live in Los Angeles, and Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 24, also a transient, are all charged with unlawfully setting timber afire, a federal offense. The charge carries a possible five-year prison term and more charges could be filed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Aguirre was held in custody without bail because he was considered a flight risk and had no means to raise bail since he is a transient. Henry was also held without bail due to of prior convictions, including for sexual battery, breaking and entering, and solicitation of lewd conduct.

Jarrell's bail and detention hearing was postponed until Friday so he could undergo a court-ordered psychological exam.

The men are expected back in court on Feb. 5.

They were taken into custody on Jan. 16, shortly after the Colby Fire started in a San Gabriel Valley foothill community northeast of Los Angeles. During interviews with the Glendora Police Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Arson Investigations Unit, all of the defendants admitted to starting a campfire that blew burning paper into the brush.

Federal Complaint: Men Smoked Pot as Colby Fire Flared

A federal complaint alleges the men were camping, smoking pot and watching videos on a laptop when they lost control of their campfire.

The Colby Fire has burned over 1,952 acres and is 95 percent contained as of Wednesday. At its peak, more than 1,110 firefighters were fighting the blaze. About 300 fire personnel remained at the site of the fire Wednesday morning.

A federal prosecutor said this case shows how dangerous illegal campfires can be.

"It really is important to drive home the fact that these sorts of actions that not only the defendents described themselves as 'stupid,' but really put in harm's way so many individuals and are brought to bear in such a level of destruction," said Amanda Bettinelli, assistant U.S. Attorney.

California Wildfires: Fire Map

The fire destroyed five homes, damaged 17 others and injured six people as thousands of Glendora and Azusa residents were required to evacuate when it raced out of the Angeles National Forest and sent wind-blown embers into a neigborhood.

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