Teens fined in Martis fire | SierraSun.com

Teens fined in Martis fire

Two area teen-agers pleaded no contest to the charge that they started a campfire on public land without a permit. A second charge that they allowed a campfire to spread into last June’s Martis Fire by leaving it unattended was dismissed. The Martis Fire eventually burned more than 14,500 acres and took nearly a month to contain. The total cost of suppressing the fire was estimated at $18.5 million.

Morgan Cooper, 18, of Truckee and Christopher Austin, 18, of Hirschdale were charged in November with two misdemeanor counts for maintaining a campfire without a permit and leaving the fire unattended.

The no contest plea and the dismissal of the second charge were presented in Nevada County Superior Court in Truckee Tuesday. The law firm Freeman and Routsis of Reno, Nev. represented Cooper and Austin.

Attorney Scott N. Freeman said that the dismissal of the charge of leaving an unattended campfire was a “recognition of the fact that it wasn’t their fault that the fire spread.”

For the no contest plea, Judge C. Anders Holmer sentenced Cooper and Austin to three years summary probation, participation in a 15-day work release program, 150 hours of community service and a $370 fine for each. In addition, Cooper and Austin were each ordered to pay half of $888.42 in restitution to the State of California.

Freeman stated that the community service sentence was in recognition of the fact that the two had started a campfire without a permit. The combined charges held a possible maximum punishment of 6 months in jail and $2,700 in fines.

Deputy District Attorney Fred T. Holmes felt that the outcome of the hearing reflected the nature of the crime rather than the results, “the pleas and the sentence are consistent with the crime that was actually committed,” said Holmes.

Holmes believes that “the ultimate liability for the damages caused by the fire will be settled in an appropriate civil setting.”

The California Department of Forestry issued a report last November that an illegal campfire started by Morgan and Cooper led to the Juniper fire, which CDF maintained directly caused the Martis Fire.

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