Report: Suspects in Calif. fire could face federal charges

A wildfire burns in the hills just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, Calif. on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014.
Nick Ut, AP

Three men accused of accidentally sparking a widespread wildfire in Southern California last week that  burned at least 1,700 acres and injured four people, could face federal charges because the blaze is believed to have been sparked on federal land, a police official said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Glendora Police Chief Tim Staab reportedly told the paper prosecutors are expected to decide Friday whether the case will be handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Services, reportedly told the paper that while it is believed the fire began on federal ground, investigators were still trying to pinpoint the exact origin.

The three men suspected of starting the fire were detained by Colby Trail, near where the fire is believed to have started. At least one of the suspects is homeless, Staab previously said.

A resident spotted "a couple of suspicious fellows moving down from the hill into the wash" and called police, Mayor Joseph A. Santoro said. Glendora officers picked up two of them, and a Forest Service officer detained the third, he said.

Police identified the suspects as Robert Aguirre, 21, of Los Angeles; Jonathan Carl Jarrell, 23, of Irwindale; and Clifford Eugene Henry, Jr., 22, of Glendora.

The three are accused of recklessly starting the fire by tossing paper into a campfire in the dangerously dry and windy foothills of Southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains.

The fire spread smoke across the Los Angeles basin and cast an eerie cloud all the way to the coast.

One resident suffered minor burns in the neighborhood abutting Angeles National Forest, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby. Hundreds of homes were saved because of firefighters' preparations, he said.

At least 2 ½ square miles of dry brush were charred in the wilderness area about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Glendora police said officers went door to door ordering residents of the city of 50,000 to leave. Citrus College, located in the heart of Glendora, canceled classes for the day as did several other schools in the area.

More than 700 firefighters were on the scene, along with 70 engines and a fleet of helicopters and air tankers dropping water and retardant.