A preliminary hearing was scheduled to begin Thursday for two men accused of intentionally starting a blaze that damaged 22 square miles of mountainous backcountry terrain between Warner Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park last summer.
Jesse James Durbin, 23, and Jeremy Joseph Ortiz, 24, are each charged with aggravated arson and arson of forest land in connection with the July 21 fire. It started at a guard shack at the Eagle Rock Training Center on the edge of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation. If convicted, the men both face 10 years to life in prison.
A judge will decide at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing whether there’s enough evidence to order Durbin and Ortiz to stand trial.
The fire charred 14,100 acres and left 18 firefighters with heat exhaustion, cuts, sprains, abrasions and other minor injuries. It cost about $15 million to fight. No homes were destroyed.
Authorities have said they will seek substantial restitution from the defendants if found guilty.
Ortiz was arrested Aug. 4. Durbin was already jailed in an unrelated auto-theft case when authorities charged him with arson.
Authorities have not disclosed what led them to identify the defendants as suspected arsonists or commented on a possible motive.