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California Briefing / MALIBU

Man admits to starting wildfire

October 03, 2008

One of five men accused of starting last year's Corral Canyon wildfire in Malibu has admitted that he and his friends accidentally ignited the blaze that burned 53 homes.

Brian David Franks, 28, changed his plea to no contest Wednesday at Van Nuys Superior Court after pleading not guilty in December to three felony charges of recklessly causing the fire.

As part of his plea deal, Franks agreed to testify in the hearings of the other defendants: Brian Alan Anderson, 23; William Thomas Coppock, 24; Eric Matthew Ullman, 19; and Dean Allen Lavorante, 20.

Prosecutors said they will seek five years' probation and 300 hours of community service for Franks when he is sentenced Nov. 3. The next hearings for Anderson and Coppock are scheduled for Oct. 17, and Ullman and Lavorante are scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

The Corral Canyon fire erupted Nov. 24, days after massive brush fires had broken out across Southern California from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border.

The men were among two groups of young people who went to a cave at the top of a hillside in Malibu. Ullman and Lavorante and two young women arrived first and built a fire in the cave. They left after a second group, including Anderson, Coppock and Franks, showed up, authorities said.

Embers from the fire sparked flames in the dry, high-fire-danger hillsides, whipped along by hot, 50-mph Santa Ana winds. Six firefighters were injured. None of the men nor their companions notified authorities, officials said.

Officials said the cave is a popular hangout for young people who go there for parties.

-- Tami Abdollah

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