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October 31, 2007

Boy Started the Agua Dulce Fire

A boy, unnamed for now, has been referred to prosecutors for starting the Agua Dulce fire which destroyed 21 homes and burned 38,000 acres. He says he was playing with matches and the fire was an accident.

So what should happen to him in terms of criminal liability? I'm not familiar enough with juvenile criminal law to know whether he must be tried as a minor (and we may be missing crucial information such as his age). So I'm asking what should be done, rather than what could be done to him.

On the one hand, I'm sympathetic. Accidents happen, although we should draw a line between an accident and negligence. When I was in junior high a friend of mine was striking matches and flicking them still-burning over his shoulder as we walked through an area of dry scrub-grass and cedar trees near our parents' homes. Before you could blink everything was on fire.

This was not accidental, in the sense that we were not doing something legitimate and the fire just got away from us. We were walking from my parents' house to his parents' house and he was simply being "Mr. Cool," flicking burning matches to either side of the path. (And we were complete pyros).

In the case of the Agua Dulce boy, it sounds like they're using the word "accidental" to mean that he didn't intend to set off a wildfire. That shouldn't save him from prosecution, even if he is a child. However, I'd prefer that this one mistake, though costly, didn't follow him into adulthood.

What do you think?

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:36 PM

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