Wildland Firefighter Jailed for Setting Calif. Fire

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- A U.S. Forest Service firefighter scheduled to start trial this week on arson charges accepted a plea agreement Monday.

Daniel Mariano Madrigal was immediately sentenced to state prison after he accepted the deal, which surprised San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Karen Khim, who was ready to start trial.

Madrigal was in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga for the start of a jury trial when his lawyer, Salvador Silva, asked if the prosecution would instead accept a plea agreement.

"The defense attorney came in and said, `Would you be willing to do two years?"' said Christopher Lee, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office.

Khim originally rejected the deal because she was going for a four-year sentence, Lee said.

The attorneys eventually came to an agreement that included waiving all credits to days served and Madrigal was sentenced to two years.

"Ultimately, when it all works out, he will be spending about nine months in state prison," Lee said.

This will count as a strike against Madrigal, who will have to register as an arsonist.

Authorities say Madrigal, 26, started a fire on July 25, 2010, east of the San Antonio Dam in in the foothills.

Madrigal was arrested

Nov. 19 at his home in Hesperia after prosecutors said he "willfully, unlawfully and maliciously" set fire to forest land or caused it to burn, as stated in a criminal complaint filed Nov. 16.

He originally pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Madrigal was working that day and had driven his truck to an area east of the dam near a water tower to make a phone call, according to the defense. A cigarette he was smoking burned him, and he tossed it.

Madrigal looked for the cigarette in his truck, but he couldn't find it. When he saw that a fire had started, Madrigal said, he went back to the station. He and a captain drove a fire engine back to the fire and put it out.

Prosecutors say the fire burned about one-tenth of an acre, but Silva said the fire was much smaller.

A phone call to Silva's office was not immediately returned.


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