Sentencing scheduled in arson fire last summer east of Warner Springs

One of two men who started a fire that scorched 22 square miles of mountainous backcountry between Warner Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park last summer is scheduled to be sentenced today at the Vista Courthouse.

Jesse James Durbin, along with co-defendant Jeremy Joseph Ortiz, pleaded guilty to an arson charge. Ortiz was sentenced earlier this month to six years in prison. Durbin is expected to get the same sentence.

Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez told Vista Judge Daniel Goldstein last month that a psychological evaluation of the defendants revealed they intended to burn a guard shack at the Eagle Rock Training Center on the edge of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation last July 21 but did not intend to burn the 14,100 acres consumed in the blaze.

Perez said the 24-year-old defendants’ actions placed them in danger to the point they had to be rescued by firefighters. The two were also under the influence of alcohol, the prosecutor said.

The blaze — which cost about $15 million to fight — left 18 firefighters with heat exhaustion, cuts, sprains, abrasions and other minor injuries. No homes were destroyed in the blaze, which took a week to extinguish.

Ortiz, who had worked as a security guard at the training center, was arrested Aug. 4. Durbin already was jailed in an unrelated auto-theft case when authorities charged him with arson.

Both are members of the Los Coyotes Indian tribe. According to authorities, Ortiz admitted pouring gasoline at the guard shack and said Durbin lit the fire.

Durbin told investigators that Ortiz lit the fire, but that he was there and was aware of the plan.

Authorities have not disclosed a motive in the case, but a Los Coyotes tribal member said Ortiz had been pressured to quit his job at the Eagle Rock Training Center, operated by a private firm on land leased from Los Coyotes and used for military training and film productions.

   
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