Two men charged with igniting second-largest fire in California history

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

NASA satellite image of the Zaca Fire taken on August 7 2007

Two men have been charged with starting the Zaca Fire, the second-largest wildfire in the history of California.

The fire is continuing to burn through the Los Padres National Forest, and has consumed a total of 240,000 acres, having started on July 4. However, the fire is now under control, and is expected to be contained by September 4.

Jose Jesus Cabrera of Santa Ynez, 38, Santiago Iniguez Cervantes of Santa Maria, 46, and the company of Rancho La Laguna, whom they worked for, have all been charged with six counts of felony in relation to starting the fire.

Three of the charges are for "recklessly causing a fire that caused great bodily injury". Two counts of this stem from the crash of a helicopter that was fighting the fires, and the other from a separate incident when a third firefighter was seriously wounded while battling the flames.

The other three counts are for recklessly causing a structure or forest fire, carelessness with a flaming substance and for not having the required permit to operate equipment capable of starting a fire. The fire started when equipment being used on a blocked water line sparked.

58 firefighters were injured in total by the blaze, although no life-threatening injuries were sustained. Currently, 1,800 people are involved in firefighting efforts, which have cost a total of $114 million.

A lawyer for the men said he felt the charges were excessive considering the circumstances. "We have a couple of hard working guys who go out to take care of a water pipe or some cattle on a very hot day on the Fourth of July and they took precautions and despite the precautions an accident happened and a fire started," said Attorney Robert Sanger.

If convicted, the men could face up to nine years imprisonment. There is also the possibility of fines and action to recover the costs of the fire.