A 29-year-old Mexican national admitted Thursday to causing the Cedar Fire and later making false statements about his role in the blaze that still is burning in southeast Tulare County.
Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said Angel Gilberto Garcia-Avalos of Michoacan pleaded guilty to starting the Cedar Fire, which began in the Cedar Creek Campground area in the Sequoia National Forest in northeastern Kern County.
The Cedar Fire burned into the Tulare County mountains in the Sequoia National Forest after it started in neighboring Kern County on Aug. 16.
Garcia was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay $61 million in damages caused by the fire. He will serve six months for causing the fire and seven more consecutive months for false statements he twice made to U.S. Forest Service officers after the fire started.
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U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston sentenced Garcia and noted he demonstrated “significant negligence” and that it appeared he did not seek help to contain the fire.
A criminal complaint said Garcia’s vehicle became stuck after he drove off-road from Highway 155 in the forest. After trying to drive over a berm, Garcia’s car rolled back and hit a tree, after which heat from the car’s muffler and catalytic converter ignited dry grass.
The false statements to Forest Service officers were made when Garcia told the officers that his car had been stolen after he supposedly parked it along Highway 155. Two weeks later he told a Forest Service special agent that he never drove off-road, but instead had his car stolen after he parked it on a paved road.
The Cedar Fire at last report had burned about 29,322 acres and was 98 percent contained. The wildfire burned at least six homes.