One of five men accused of starting a wildfire in Malibu that destroyed 53 homes admitted Wednesday that he and his friends accidentally touched off the blaze, and then agreed not to tell authorities.
Brian David Franks, 27, of Los Angeles, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of recklessly causing a fire. He is expected to be placed on five years probation and be ordered to perform 300 hours of community service when he is sentenced Nov. 3 by Van Nuys Superior Leslie A. Dunn.
In a statement read by his attorney, Franks said he and two carloads of friends rekindled an abandoned campfire in a "party cave" in Malibu's Corral Canyon on Nov. 24, 2007.
According to Franks' statement, he and his friends drank beer and vodka at the campsite, then fellow defendant Brian Alan Anderson, 22, of Los Angeles, threw a burning pillow at Franks.
Partygoers also kicked logs that were on the campfire, scattering embers that Franks attempted to stomp out, he said.
Franks said he believed that he and his friends had extinguished all of the embers from the pillow and the campfire, but the night was exceptionally windy. He estimated that gusts were up to 60 mph.
The next day, while watching the news on TV, the partygoers saw that a wildfire had been started and believed that they had caused it, Franks said. They then agreed to keep silent about what had happened, he said.
The wildfire consumed 53 homes and severely damaged another 23.
Along with Franks and Anderson, three other people were charged in the case: William Thomas Coppock, 23, of Los Angeles; Dean Allen Lavorante, 19, of Culver City; and Eric Matthew Ullman, 18, also of Culver City.
As part of his plea deal, Franks will be required to be available to testify against the other defendants.
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