The guy who started the Cedar Fire — a 35 year old “hunter” or something — was sentenced at the end of it all.
SAN DIEGO — A federal judge Thursday sentenced a West Covina man to six months in a work-furlough program and 960 hours of community service for starting two small signal fires that erupted into the deadly Cedar fire, which killed 15 people and burned more than 300,000 acres in 2003.
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez said he feels Sergio Martinez, 35, is remorseful and that no purpose would be served by sending him to prison, as many property owners whose homes were destroyed had demanded.
He noted that by setting fires on Oct. 25, 2003, Martinez was doing what he was taught in a hunter safety course.
Benitez could have sentenced Martinez to five years in prison. Instead, he ordered him to spend six months in a halfway house, which will allow him to continue working, attend church and perform community service on weekends.
Many people — including me — were angry at this “sentence.” It really made no difference to us that this guy was doing what he’d learned in a “hunter safety course.” He should also have had a brain that was engaged and aware of the natural habitat in which he started the signal fires. And that was very, very, very dry brush and chaparral.
And why was he lost? From where the fires were started, pretty much all the guy had to do to get “found” was head west into town.
Fifteen people and 300,000 acres dead, gone, burned, vanished NEVER to recover in the drought conditions that remained, worsened, over the next decade.
Many people hoped he’d at least get charged with manslaughter.
Fire is…I sat in a park in the town of Pine Valley, east of the fire, and waited for something to happen, at least to be able to get on I-8 to go west. Unlike most of the people in the park, I did not see much point in heading east to the sweaty motels of El Centro or the movie-worthy digs of the Salton Sea. My reasoning? The ocean wouldn’t burn. I was going west or I was going, I don’t know. But I had all I needed for a couple days camping — me and the dogs — in the back of the truck.
Meanwhile a wall of flames and smoke rose over the mountains between me and home. The photo? Taken from the freeway exit that I would — several days later — take to return home.
And that was fire.