10 Dec 2009, 8:09pm
Latest Fire News
by admin

Trail Gnomes Charged in Jesusita Fire

Misdemeanors Could Mean Fines, Jail Time, and Civil Penalties for Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen

By Ray Ford and Chris Meagher, Santa Barbara Independent, December 10, 2009 [here]

More than seven months after the Jesusita Fire scorched nearly 9,000 acres of the Santa Barbara front country — destroying 80 homes, damaging another 15, seriously injuring numerous firefighters, and costing $17 million in its wake — two men have been charged in connection with the start of the fire.

On Thursday, the District Attorney’s office filed charges against Craig Ilenstine, 50, and Dana Larsen, 45, who have each been hit with one misdemeanor count of not obtaining a “hot work” permit when they were allegedly doing trail work on May 5, 2009, the day the fire broke out. The D.A.’s press release indicated that the investigation and evidence collected by the fire investigation team showed that Ilenstine and Larsen were using gas-powered weed cutters to trim vegetation along the Jesusita Trail in the area where the fire started at approximately 1:45 p.m. It’s been long speculated that the fire was caused by trail work of this type, which is usually conducted by volunteers who are known colloquially in hiking and mountain biking circles as “trail gnomes.”

The charge is a violation of California Fire Code, Chapter 26, Section 2601, which requires that a permit must first be obtained from the fire marshal for any “welding, cutting, open torches, and other hot work operations and equipment.” …

According to one such volunteer who’s done 14 years of trail work, this is the first mention of a hot work permit. “None of the local volunteer organizations have ever been informed about, or required to have a hot work permit in the past,” he said. …

Despite community sentiment calling for much harsher charges — especially given the lack of serious prosecution for those thought to be the cause of the November 2008 Tea Fire — the D.A.’s office determined after a lengthy investigation that it would not bring felony charges against the men. That’s due to a “good faith belief” that the D.A. could not “prove beyond a reasonable doubt the required mental state” needed to convict the men of felonies.

What prosecutors do intend to do, however, is seek restitution on behalf of the victims of the Jesusita Fire, a pricetag that’s floating in the millions of dollars, considering the injured firefighters and destroyed homes. … [much more]

14 Dec 2009, 3:25pm
by Forrest Grump

Like a PERMIT would make any difference? Eyes rolling here….

14 Dec 2009, 3:41pm
by Mike

Evidently trail volunteers have been working on public trails in the SB area for at least 14 years and probably much longer than that (11,000+ years?).

But the agencies (in this case Santa Barbara County) who administer that land have not bothered to oversee that work, evidently.

If the fire-starters were arsonists, that would be one thing. But they were volunteers in a govt-sponsored program on govt-managed land. So why weren’t the responsible govt officials also dragged into court and sued for restitution?

The double standard of justice, wherein private citizens are reamed and govt officials held immaculate is sort of annoying. Actually, it’s the kind of thing that leads to violent revolution, which I hope is NOT going to happen, although it would be totally understandable if it did.



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