Due to a large number of dead pine trees, accumulated dry ground cover, and the stressed brush conditions in Eastern Madera County, District Attorney David Linn warns people that they can be charged with a felony criminal offense, which could include state prison time, for negligently starting a fire.
“In short, you do not have to intend to start a fire to go to jail,” Linn said in a prepared statement. “While lightning does cause some fires, over 90% of all woodland fires are started by human beings, many of whom are children. Even with the rain we have had these past few months, the woodlands and rural areas are extremely dry. A major fire could start with a spark, gunshot, and/or a carelessly thrown cigarette butt. I would like to ask everyone to be extremely careful with fire throughout the fire season.”
Linn said his office will work closely with the Madera County Probation Department to ensure individuals affected by fire damage will receive as much restitution from the offender as is legally possible.
Since becoming district attorney Linn has personally prosecuted all arson and unlawful fire cases, with the exception of cases in which he had a conflict of interest.
“I have many years experience in handling wildland fires and environmental issues, having argued these cases in various courts, including the United States Supreme Court,” Linn said.
Linn said that while in college his forestry professor talked about the 1961 “Harlow Fire,” stating that the fire, which generated more energy than all of the atomic bombs used in WWII, was the last true fire storm that America would ever see.
“My professor was obviously wrong, in that we have seen many more fire storms over the past half-century,” Linn said. “The Harlow Fire consumed more than 43,000 acres, destroyed numerous structures, and killed two people. It was a very devastating and fast-moving inferno. If it were to occur again with the population and homes in Eastern Madera County, massive property damage would occur and dozens of individuals may be killed. I am concerned about wildfires and have instructed my office and deputies that arson is our number one priority in Eastern Madera County.”
Linn’s investigators will work out of the Mountain District Attorney’s Office in Oakhurst, attempting to respond to all wildfire calls, to gather evidence for prosecution whenever a fire starts.
“As I did last year, I will personally respond to all fires or fire scenes, as soon as I become aware of an active fire.” Linn said.
Linn said his office will make maximum use of the Youthful Offender Program, which was established along with Cornerstone Counseling and Cal Fire, to help evaluate and treat youthful offenders so that they will not become future arsonists. It is his desire to treat all youthful offenders with professional counseling as soon as possible.
“I urge anyone who believes one of their children has an unusual fascination with fire to contact the Mountain Area District Attorney’s Oakhurst Office at (559) 683-3300, so we can arrange for confidential counseling to prevent any possible offense by the child,” Linn said.
Linn said he and personnel from his office will be available to speak with any youth group that wishes to learn about enforcement efforts.
“I believe that county government, through my office working with the residents of Eastern Madera County, the Madera County Sheriffs Office, and the highly trained members of Cal Fire, can significantly reduce the threat of wildfire during the current fire season,” Linn said. “This is the mountain community working together for our common good.”
District Attorney’s office