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Arraignment Delayed for Two Men Charged in Jesusita Fire

Co-defendants Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen aren't likely to appear in court until the trial

The two men facing misdemeanor charges in connection with the May 2009 Jesusita Fire aren’t likely to appear in court until the trial, unless ordered to by the judge.

Friday’s scheduled arraignment in Santa Barbara County Superior Court for Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen was continued to February.

Each man faces two misdemeanor charges: using power tools without having a hot work permit from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and not having proper firefighter equipment, a charge added within the past week, said attorney Larry Powell, who represents Larsen.

The men are being charged as co-defendants in the same case, one that they’ll “most likely” request is tried in front of a jury, Powell said.

Ilenstine and Larsen are accused of using metal-bladed power tools on May 5, 2009, the day the fire started on the Jesusita Trail in upper San Roque Canyon.

Many questions remain as to how the fire started, and both clients say they were off the mountain at least an hour before the fire was reported, Powell said.

Convictions may be punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or jail time of up to 90 days, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The District Attorney’s Office has said it will seek restitution for Jesusita Fire victims if the defendants are convicted and the prosecution can prove the alleged crimes caused the fire. Cal Fire also has said it plans to pursue civil cost recovery against the two men.

Powell said the plans to seek restitution shows “a very serious position” of the District Attorney’s Office in this case.

County Fire Chief Mike Dyer said the cost to fight the fire was about $19.5 million. The blaze, which forced the evacuation of more than 35,000 people, destroyed 80 homes and damaged 15. More than 1,850 firefighters battled the 8,733-acre fire.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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