A firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service on Monday accepted a plea deal to serve two years in prison for starting a wildfire while he was on duty July 25, 2010 in southern California near Rancho Cucamonga (map). A trial was scheduled to begin Monday, but Daniel Mariano Madrigal, 26, and his attorney surprised San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Karen Khim with an offer to plead no contest and to serve two years. After some negotiation, the two sides agreed on the deal, which will probably result in Madrigal actually serving about 9 months, according to Christopher Lee, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office.
Prosecutors had alleged Madrigal “willfully, unlawfully and maliciously” set fire to forest land or caused it to burn.
Before the trial, Madrigal’s attorney, Salvador Silva, contended that the fire was an accident, according to an article in the Contra Costa Times:
The defendant was working that day and had driven his truck to an area east of the dam near a water tower to make a cell phone call. A cigarette he was smoking burned him, and he tossed it, according to the defense.
Madrigal looked for the cigarette in his truck, but he couldn’t find it. When he saw that a fire had started, the defense says Madrigal went back to the station. He and a captain drove a fire engine back to the fire and put it out.
Prosecutors say the fire burned about one-tenth of an acre, but Silva said the fire was much smaller.