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14-Year-Old Charged in Santa Clarita Blaze

Police say the boy told them he found a lighter and decided to set some brush on fire. About 15 acres were damaged, but no one was injured.

June 24, 2005|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A 14-year-old summer school student at Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita was arrested and charged with felony arson in connection with a brush fire Wednesday that blackened about 15 acres and took nearly four hours to extinguish.

The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, was questioned after school officials received an anonymous phone call saying he and three other students were seen walking from the campus after classes near where the fire began.

The suspect told a detective that he found a cigarette lighter and decided to ignite some brush on a plateau less than a quarter of a mile from the school.

"This wasn't a preconceived plot to set the hillside on fire," said Det. Daniel Finn of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Santa Clarita Valley station.

"He claims he found a lighter and was just being stupid with it. Kids are fascinated by flames," he said.

Finn described the boys, ages 13 to 16, as casual acquaintances enrolled in summer school.

The suspect was booked hours after the fire, then released into the custody of his parents.

Finn said the other teens were questioned, but no charges were filed against them.

No homes or businesses were threatened by the blaze, but two of the more than 100 fire personnel who responded suffered heat exhaustion.

The firefighters were treated at the scene.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Assistant Chief Matt Gil said 15 engines, three water-dropping helicopters, a bulldozer and eight 14-person hand crews worked to contain the fire, which was first reported at 12:29 p.m.

Light winds blew the flames in a northerly direction away from the school, then halfway down a hill that approaches a Home Depot store and other businesses, Gil said.

Sgt. John Ament of the sheriff's arson-explosives detail said the teens were lucky that the fire didn't get out of hand and cause serious damage or injuries.

"Sometimes you wonder what they're thinking," he said of the students.

Firefighters "were lucky they got it out right away, because the winds picked up later and it could have been ugly."

County fire officials and the city of Santa Clarita combined spent $448,000 to open a temporary fire station five months ago on Golden Valley Road, half a mile from the school.

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