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Ventura County

Teenager Arrested After Fire

Crime: The 14-year-old is accused of playing with illegal fireworks. Hills between Thousand Oaks and Simi burned.

July 12, 2001|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 14-year-old Thousand Oaks boy has been arrested on suspicion of starting a 275-acre blaze with an illegal firecracker in the hills between Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley.

Ventura County Fire Department officials said Wednesday they will seek reimbursement for $175,000 expended in putting out the brush fire--the largest of the season, which began May 15.

The boy, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, was arrested by Ventura County sheriff's deputies Tuesday and released to his parents. He was cited for unlawfully causing a fire due to reckless behavior, Sheriff's Det. Mark Gillette said.

The Ventura County district attorney's office is reviewing the case to determine what charges the boy might face.

No structures were threatened in the June 29 blaze that began near the Lang Ranch development in Thousand Oaks and burned toward the Wood Ranch development in Simi Valley.

More than 300 firefighters from Ventura and Los Angeles counties as well as the U.S. Forest Service fought the brush fire, said Joe Luna, a Ventura County Fire Department spokesman.

The 14-year-old and an 11-year-old friend were suspects from the beginning, Gillette said, but the arrest wasn't made until detectives completed the investigation this week.

Gillette said the younger boy was not cited because, although he was there, he didn't light the firecracker, apparently purchased from Mexico.

Last December, four teens were arrested on suspicion of sparking a 600-acre fire after taking a van up into heavy brush. They did not face criminal charges, although county authorities are seeking up to $250,000 in firefighting costs.

Last year, two Ojai teenagers pleaded guilty to setting off fireworks that caused a December 1999 brush fire east of the city that burned one home and destroyed 4,300 acres.

They were each sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and $150-a-month restitution for five years, the length of their probation. Additionally, the county is seeking to recoup a fraction of the firefighting costs, which totaled $5 million.

Two years ago, the county settled a case against two teens who set off a 400-acre brush fire between Ventura and Santa Paula in 1996, again while playing with fireworks. The civil case against the teens and their families sought $235,000 in reimbursement but settled for $211,000.

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