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Men Charged in Jesusita Fire Plead Not Guilty

Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen are accused of unlawfully using power tools near the origin of the blaze

The two men charged with misdemeanors related to the Jesusita Fire pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing Monday.

Craig Ilenstine and Dana Larsen will not appear in court outside of a trial unless ordered by a judge, but their attorneys were in court Monday along with Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian.

Ilenstine and Larsen are charged with misdemeanor counts of using power tools without a hot work permit from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a violation of Santa Barbara County Code, and for not having proper firefighting equipment, a violation of public resources code, Lulejian said.

The second count, which was added just before the originally scheduled arraignment, states that no one shall use any gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine portable tool operated “on or near” forested, grass- or brush-covered land near flammable material without having tools within 25 feet for firefighting purposes. More specifically, “one serviceable round point shovel, with an overall length of not less than 46 inches, or one serviceable fire extinguisher.”

Defense attorney Larry Powell, who represents Dana Larsen, has said the two men will be tried together, and that they would “most likely” request a jury trial.

The defense plans to make preliminary motions concerning the applicability of the stature and whether restitution is appropriate, said defense attorney Sam Eaton, who represents Ilenstine.

All parties agreed the legal questions should be discussed before going to trial, Eaton said. “It’ll save everybody a lot of time,” he said.

A settlement conference is scheduled for March, when the attorneys will address Judge Jean Dandona in Department 11.

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

Convictions could be punishable by jail time of up to 90 days and/or a fine of up to $25,000. In addition, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has said it intends to seek restitution for Jesusita Fire victims if the men are convicted and the prosecution can prove the alleged crimes caused the fire, during the sentencing stage. Cal Fire also plans to pursue civil cost recovery against the men.

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

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