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California Briefing / Long Beach

No-contest plea in '07 Catalina brush fire

February 05, 2009|Richard Winton

An Indiana man pleaded no contest Wednesday to starting the Santa Catalina Island brush fire in May 2007, a blaze that caused an estimated $20 million in damage and forced some residents to flee the island.

Gary Dennis Hunt, 51, could face up to three years in prison when he is sentenced in May, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ann W. Ambrose.

Hunt, who was working as a subcontractor on the island, inadvertently set the blaze while using an open-flame torch to cut cables at a radio tower, she said. Island officials had posted warnings of extreme fire danger, and open flames were not permitted.

Ambrose said a restitution hearing is set the same day as sentencing in Long Beach Superior Court. Restitution could reach as high as $20 million if Southern California Edison and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection submit estimates of damage.

The fire destroyed several structures and consumed more than 4,000 acres of brush.

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