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SAN DIEGO — A teenage girl convicted of multiple arson charges for starting a fire a year ago that sparked the larger Cocos wildfire, which blackened nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed more than 35 homes and other structures, was sentenced Wednesday.

Judge Howard Shore ordered the girl to work 400 hours of community service, report back to the judge every 60 days and to pay restitution to the victims of the massive fire.  The girl will not spend any time in custody, must attend school and is required to write apology letters to each victim.

“Judge hopes to see something positive come out of this case,” said Deputy District Attorney Shawnalyse Ochoa, who explained why the sentencing was “fitting.”

PaseoTierraHomeowner Chuck Higby lost his garage to the wildfire last May. He addressed the media outside the courthouse Wednesday and was visibly distraught by the judge’s ruling.

“It’s going to be a slap on the wrist. It took the judge forever to get to the part of the speech about how bad he felt for us and all the devastation she caused,” Higby said. “We’re left with nothing and she’s allowed to ride her bike around, but not in our neighborhood.”

After a two-week non-jury trial, Shore ruled that the girl, now 14, intentionally set a fire in her backyard on May 13, 2014, then, the next day, set a blaze in her neighbor’s backyard that sent an ember nearly a half-mile to spark the Cocos fire. Ochoa said the girl expressed glee and laughed when she told her sister about the May 13 fire.

The girl was convicted of three arson counts and one misdemeanor count of allowing a fire to get out of control. Shore ruled that the teen acted willfully and maliciously in setting the fires but said there was no evidence to suggest she intended to harm anyone or burn homes.

The girl, then 13, told investigators she knew that intentionally setting a fire was wrong but she wanted to see what would happen if she did.

“She knew she was doing something wrong, and she did it anyway,” Ochoa said in her closing argument.

The girl who set the Cocos Fire walks into court.
The girl who set the Cocos Fire walks into court.

The girl went to her room after setting the second fire, allowing that blaze to grow into a larger fire, which sparked the Cocos blaze, the prosecutor said. Two Cal Fire investigators determined that an ember from the fire behind the girl’s home traveled .44 of a mile to spark the Cocos fire, according to the prosecutor.

“I haven’t seen one sign of regret from her or her family,” said Dan Eubank, victim.

Eubank’s home on Crestwind Drive was burnt to the ground.  With help from his neighbors, Dan is rebuilding little by little.

“It’s going to be a much smaller home,” said Eubank.  “It may never get completely while we’re alive.  I’m not sure.”

Eubank called the sentence disturbing.

“We see her riding her bike.  Laughing and running around with other friends,” said Eubank.

He said she will continue to run free while he and his neighbors are punished for her crime.

“It’s just like her life will go on from the day it happened,” said Dan.  “We’re stuck here, we’re stuck in years of misery.”

The Cocos fire was one of more than a dozen brushfires that erupted in hot, dry and windy conditions last spring. Officials said fighting the fires cost nearly $28 million.

The girl is expected back in court for a hearing to explain her progress on July 21.

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