Colby Fire: Man accused of starting fire ordered into residential drug treatment

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A federal judge Wednesday ordered one of the men accused of starting the Colby Fire near Glendora to be held in a residential drug treatment facility.

Attorneys for Jonathan Carl Jarrell argued in a federal court bail review hearing that he needed treatment for his mental illness and drug addiction.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli argued Jarrell is a danger to the public. She points to a fire history, saying he started one in 2009 in Louisiana that damaged his mom's home. 

"He has stated that was due to an accidental fire," the prosecutor says, from Jarrell smoking cigarettes. "And that he unintentionally burned the residence, and his mother indicated that was correct, that he did burn the family home down."

Bettinelli also described Jarrell as a transient and a flight risk. She asked he be held without bail, along with two other men accused of sparking the wildfire in the Angeles National Forest, Steven Robert Aguirre and Clifford Eugene Henry. It charred about 2,000 acres and destroyed five homes.

A federal judge disagreed and ruled Jarrell be moved to a residential treatment facility in Tarzana. He must also wear an electronic monitoring device.

Prosecutors plan to charge the three men with at least one felony and perhaps several misdemeanors for starting the fire in a prohibited area. All three men are scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 11.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bettinelli says this case serves as a cautionary tale or wakeup call.

"Although it might be simple to dismiss their conduct as foolish or stupid, which by their own admission they have said," Bettinelli said, she points out the concern is that the region can be "like a tinderbox."

She says people need to have a heightened level of caution and concern for their neighbors.

"Because our conduct can have immediate consequences for their health and safety," she said. "In this case we had immediate evacuations after the fire."

She says the evacuations started at 5:30 a.m. on the morning on Jan. 16, about half an hour after the fast-moving fire started.

"If I were a person who received a knock on my door at 5:30 in the morning and I had a young child, or elderly person at home, and I looked up to see the mountain on fire, I would say, 'How did we get to this point?'" Bettinelli said.

Bettinelli says it was a fire illegally set within conditions that should give "normal persons of reason concern they might be putting their neighbors and others at risk."

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