U.S. Forest Service firefighter sentenced to 2 years for starting fire

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.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

14 thoughts on “U.S. Forest Service firefighter sentenced to 2 years for starting fire”

  1. Daniel took the plea bargain under duress. His attorney told him after coming back from the Judges chambers with the DA that the Judge was going to give him 8 years in federal prison and the DA was going to put his mother in jail also. Daniel’s attorney told him to take the fu*cken deal because no one belives him. I don’t either. For an hour he told Daniel the DA was going to put his mother in jail, take the fu*cking plea, I have other things to do. Daniel asked him I did not commit arson. Are you going to present me at trial? Attorney “I guess I have to” was his answer but no one believes you, do you want to see your mother go to jail? An investigator for Daniel called me and told me all her finding in the investigation proved Daniel did not do arson. The check she received from the attorney bounced the day she receive it. the attorney blamed her for Daniel sentence. Hope to appeal

  2. Call it whatever you like… a LONG string of “suspicious fires” where he was a potential suspect… between Lower San.. thru the Cajon Pass… and along the desert divide east and west… suddenly stopped after his arrest. Go figure.

    Probably best he plead to a single count where he WAS CAUGHT ON CAMERA instead of standing trial for all of the rest… to protect his family members from looking like A-holes… even though they (family) will troll and spam websites professing his innocence after the fact. Folks… tell the whole story. If “mom” had a potential to go to jail, as you say, it was also for a valid reason.

    Can’t make this stuff up.

  3. Come on…REALLY? first of all in order for a cigarette to start a brush fire the RH (relative humidity) needs to be in the single digits and moderate sustainable winds, and fuel moisture content needs to be around 12%, furthermore in order for a heat source to ignite a give fuel it will need it to be constant in order for the fuel to reach its ignition temperature. Now according to the defense, he claims the cigarette burned him causing him to throw it into the vegetation, this means the cigarette could have been near done burning it tobacco and paper product, causing to burn up to the filter where it usually burns itself out leaving no room for question did the cigarette burn long enough to combust the surrounding vegetation?
    Other considerations: This happened late night at over 2,000 feet elevation

  4. About 20 years ago I conducted some, very, very informal research on the ability of a cigarette starting a fire if dropped from about 3 feet high. It was done in a safe area with supression tools on site. Out of 100 lit cigaretts dropped I did get one poor and short term ignition on a very dry day 8-10% ?, RH in some very fine fuels. My conclusion was it is possible but conditions need to be just right.

    About a week later I was asked to do a cause determination on a roadside fire and there in the grass at the ignition point were the remains of a very large cigar.

    It would be nice if someone could do some updated research on this issue, with much more exact methods then mine.


  5. I wonder why no scientific research was done for this case? There are a lot of aspects that need to take into consideration when it comes to probability of ignition and from my understanding; the area this accrued was Fuel Model B with mostly chemise, chaparral and manzanita.
    I’m not trying to be a Judge nor a DA but I am a U.S. Forest Service Firefighter and its people like him that give the rest of us a bad name.

  6. When I went through the USFS “Level 3 Law Enforcement” class I remember an instructor telling us that cigarettes were unlikely to start a fire, but cigars had a greater chance of starting a fire than cigarettes.

  7. they said the Titanic couldn’t sink! Ever heard the word CODE OF SILENCE AMONG THE BROTHERHOOD?
    Never say never.
    I guess we will find out the truth when we all stand before our maker.
    Just hope it never happens to you or your family and friends.

  8. Daniel is the one that told them the camera was there. Capt K didn’t even know it was there. until Daniel told him and the others that where there. That fire was the size of a small bedroom it was turned off quickly. it was near the dam and a water tower what person wanting to start a forrest fire would start a fire near a dam and water tower. it was an accidnet. Forsetry reports state the fire was turned off before it started. How did that happen? Daniel was at work for the forestry miles away from the those fires Mr B accuss Daniel of. Maybe he was starting the fires since he was in the area.

  9. Reports state that the humidity was taken right after the fire was turned off. REALLY? Water + Fire = what?

  10. “CODE OF SILENCE AMONG THE BROTHERHOOD” is an unwritten rule among police officers in the United States not to report on another colleague’s errors, misconducts or crimes. That’s why cops have Internal Affairs, Firefighters don’t have that and the reason being is that a firefighter’s mistake can be fatal so we have no room for error.

    By you saying that you just admitted his guilt.

    What you need to understand is a wildland firefighter has an elite level of training so even if what he claims is true it is still negligence and a mistake like that is unacceptable and it’s the same as a normal person starting a fire.
    Let me give you an example, if a person goes camping and leaves his camp fire unattended and that fires starts a forest fire, that individual is held responsible.

  11. On Dec. 23, 1991 Cameron Todd Willingham home in Chicago caught fire due to negligence which resulted in the death if his daughters.

    On Jan. 8, 1992, Willingham was charged with murder just two weeks after the fire. In August of the same year, his trial began, after Willingham turned down a deal from the prosecution and insisted that he was innocent.

    On Feb. 17, 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was strapped to a gurney in a Texas death chamber as he declared his innocence for the last time.


    The crime of maliciously, voluntarily, and willfully setting fire to the building, buildings, or other property of another or of burning one’s own property for an improper purpose, as to collect insurance.

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