SAN MARCOS, Calif. -- A San Marcos man is accused of recklessly lighting a fire in May while a San Marcos-area wildfire nearby was already raging.
Nine months after the Cocos fire blackened nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 structures, most of them homes, Charlie Duvel said the District Attorney is charging him for attempting to save his house.
Pictures taken by a CAL Fire photographer May 15 show Duvel behind his home setting a backfire, which is a method of intentionally setting a fire to halt the progress of an approaching fire by creating a burned area in its path.
Duvel admits to setting the backfire. He said anyone in the same position would do the same to save their home.
“If anyone was put in the same spot, I’m sure 99 percent of the people would do the same thing,” Duvel said. “I mean there’s nothing malicious about it, you’re trying to save your home and your livelihood.”
Prior to setting the backfire, Duvel shot cell phone video of the wall of flames that raced toward his Coronado Hills home.
“The embers that were burning it looked like a blizzard of ashes. I mean the embers were going everywhere,” Duvel said.
Duvel had 200 feet of fire hose hooked up to a water main. He also had the help of his neighbor and a few friends. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts the firestorm ended up in his backyard. At that point he said he was forced to light a backfire.
“We had exhausted everything we had fire hoses out here,” said Duvel. “We didn’t just light the fire and walk off. It was a controlled fire. We didn’t light that thing until the last moment. Last resort.”
CAL Fire said if you set an uncontrolled fire while trying to save your home and it increases the size of the existing fire or causes injury or damage you will be held liable.
The District Attorney charged Duvel with one misdemeanor count of recklessly causing a fire, but would not discuss details of the pending case.
Duvel’s home was saved, along with his neighbors’ homes on both sides.
If convicted, Duvel faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 27.