Prosecutors grappled on Wednesday with what charges, if any, to file against the 10-year-old boy who admitted he set a fire last week that charred more than 38,000 acres and destroyed 21 homes in northern Los Angeles County.On the ranch northeast of Santa Clarita where the boy’s parents helped care for horses, people who knew him said he had no history of problems and was distraught about the destruction.
“He’s a child, and I certainly believe that he had no malice and I absolutely believe it was accidental,” said Denise Tomey, executive director of Carousel Ranch, which offers equestrian therapy for physically and mentally disabled children.The boy had no connection to the program but had lived in a trailer on the property in the Agua Dulce area for about a year with his parents, one of whom is a ranch caretaker. Tomey called the boy’s family “peaceful.”
Though fire officials said it was unlikely that the boy would face criminal charges, they said that his parents could possibly be held civilly liable for the damage. But the blaze caused millions of dollars in losses, and it is unclear whether his family could afford to pay even a fraction of that.
The boy, who has not been named by authorities, told investigators that he was playing with matches when he set fire to dry brush Oct. 21, a day when ferocious Santa Ana winds fueled fires throughout the region.
At the property, which is up a winding dirt road from a narrow, two-lane street, the fire’s destructive path is clear. Just across the unfenced property line begins charred earth that stretches west over blackened hills as far as the eye can see. “Obviously I feel terrible for the people who are affected by the fire, and I know the child felt terrible about it,” Tomey said.
She said she asked his parents to remove him from the ranch Monday after investigators interviewed him. Tomey said he has been staying with relatives elsewhere in California.News that a child had set the blaze stunned fire victims. Investigators initially reported that the cause was downed power lines.
“I’m sure he has no idea the amount of damage he has caused,” said Michelle Garcia, whose one-story Santa Clarita home was partly destroyed in the fire. “I feel so bad for the child and his parents. He’s going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.”
Prosecutors on Wednesday began reviewing the case, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, and it remains unclear when they will decide what to do with the boy.
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