Two men sentenced in California for starting fires

In recent days sentences were handed down in two unrelated California cases in which men were convicted of starting wildfires.

Cedar Fire

In the one with the biggest numbers, Angel Gilberto Garcia-Avalos, 29, a Mexican national, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay $61 million in restitution for damage caused by the Cedar Fire, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The fire started August 16, 2016 northwest of Lake Isabella and burned 29,332 acres and 6 homes.

At his first court appearance on September 29 he entered a guilty plea for one count of causing a fire to burn in the forest and two counts of giving false information to a forest officer and was sentenced that day.

As he was driving on a dirt road, Mr. Garcia’s car got stuck while attempting to drive over a berm and rolled back hitting a tree. The muffler and catalytic converter of the vehicle were in direct contact with dead grass and started the Cedar Fire.

Series of fires in San Diego County

In the other case, Jonathan Cohen, 45, was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. He was convicted of setting a series of five small fires in eastern San Diego County in 2014 and 2015. Investigators suspected him of being responsible for dozens or even hundreds of other fires.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

None of the fires grew large, but investigators — who had suspected Cohen of being an arsonist for more than a year before his arrest — called him one of the most dangerous people in the county because of the catastrophic consequences his actions might have caused.

The prosecutor told the jury during the trial that Cohen would go to the Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside and the Valley View Casino & Hotel in Valley Center to gamble, then start fires on his way home to Poway.

Surveillance cameras that were set up in the areas where the fires were occurring recorded Mr. Cohen’s vehicle passing by within minutes of a fire starting.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Two men sentenced in California for starting fires”

  1. Will he have to stay in prison until his fine is paid off? He didn’t do this on purpose so that’s why only the 13 month sentence but none of us could ever pay 61 million. Just doesn’t make sense but I guesse someone has to be held accountable

    1. Based on the article it appears to me that he will spend 13 months in prison, and then will be released and will start paying restitution at that time. Obviously he’ll never pay the entire restitution. It really seems symbolic more than anything else.

  2. Prison? This wasn’t arson. He didn’t willfully start the fire. If the facts in the article are correct, then prison is way out of line for what he did. I agree that he’s not going to even make a dent in the restitution, and the court knows it.

  3. I am always fascinated by the monetary punishment when a person is found guilty of starting a fire. Garcia-Avalos is to pay $61 million in restitution for damage caused by the Cedar Fire. Does the court really believe that any significant part of the $61M will ever be paid.

    Maybe prison and then a lifetime of community service would be more appropriate.


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