As of September 10, there are 29 major wildfires burning in California. One of the largest in Southern California is the El Dorado fire in San Bernadino County. This fire is also being widely discussed in the news because where as many of the other fires were started as a result of dry weather, this fire was a result of nothing more than a gender reveal party gone wrong. Now officials are suggesting the family responsible could face criminal charges for their actions.
What Caused the El Dorado Fire
On the morning of September 5, a family gathered for a gender reveal party in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. The big surprise involved using a pyrotechnic device that released smoke. Unfortunately, dry conditions and high heat in the area resulted in the device causing a fire in the park.
While the family tried to put out the fire, the dry conditions resulted in the fire quickly spreading out of control, so they quickly called 9-11.
Reckless Burning Charges
The most likely charges the family could face are those of reckless burning. This crime is a lesser form of arson charges in California and occurs when a person recklessly causes a fire that burns a structure, property or forest land that is not their own private property. It is important to recognize that these charges can be filed even when the person’s actions were accidental, but still a result of reckless behavior.
Using a pyrotechnic device in El Dorado Ranch Park, where plants are very dry from the summer heat, during one of the hottest days on record in California could certainly be considered reckless. While reckless burning is a misdemeanor in most cases, when the property that has been burned is a structure belonging to someone else or public forest land, the crime can be a felony. The charge can also be a felony if someone suffers great bodily injury as a result of the fire, but fortunately no one has been injured in this blaze so far. As a felony, the charges can result in a sentence of up to six years in a state prison. Anyone convicted of this crime can also be ordered to pay for all damages resulting from the blaze they started, but also for any expenses the state incurred by fighting the fires.
Cal Fire spokesperson Captain Bennett Malloy has said that while the family did the right thing by calling 9-11 and cooperating with authorities and is certainly feeling guilty for their activities, the fact is that they acted in a seriously reckless manner. Ultimately it’s up to the District Attorney to decide if it will be in the public’s best interest to file charges.
It’s worth noting that a major issue in these cases is the issue of restitution to pay for the damaged property and the emergency response. While the costs can be prohibitive, making some payments toward the victim’s compensation fund after charges have been filed, but before the case has been resolve will usually have a definite positive impact on cases where only property damage occurred. This can often can help an attorney secure a better plea deal and minimize the his clients will face.
Illegal Fireworks Charges
While the news has been largely focused on the fact that the family could face reckless burning charges, it’s also possible they could face charges related to using illegal fireworks. San Bernadino County is just like San Diego in that all forms of fireworks are illegal in the County. That means even something as simple as a smoke generating device is against the law. The reasoning behind this is clear in light of this tragedy -any type of pyrotechnic device used in the wrong way can result in a fire that could burn thousands of acres in drought-plagued Southern California. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there is no safe way to use consumer fireworks, so many counties with large swaths of dry brush throughout most of the year prohibit all form of fireworks.
While using illegal fireworks is only a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than one year in jail, the fact that all fireworks are illegal in the area could be used as further proof that the family responsible for the fire acted in a reckless manner.
Arson charges, even the less serious reckless burning charges, should always be taken seriously. If you have been accused of any form of arson charge, it is critical you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Please call (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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