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AP California News

Dec 15, 8:57 PM EST

Indictment for man charged in huge California fire



SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A man previously charged with deliberately starting a huge Northern California wildfire that burned a dozen homes has now been indicted by a grand jury, El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said Monday.

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, of Pollock Pines was indicted this month on one count of arson of forest land, with multiple aggravating factors. He was arraigned Monday on the indictment, with his bail remaining at $10 million until his next court appearance Jan. 23.

He pleaded not guilty, as he did to a similar complaint in September. His attorney, Bob Banning, did not return telephone and email messages.

The indictment charges that on Sept. 13 he "willfully, unlawfully, and maliciously" set what developed into the King Fire, which burned more than 150 square miles east of Sacramento and forced nearly 2,800 evacuations.

Huntsman himself called to report the fire, said Dave Stevenson, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

"He did break into a home, he did call 911, but ... that doesn't take away from the `definitely intentional,'" said Stevenson, who noted that Huntsman once served on an inmate fire crew.

Special allegations include that Huntsman has four convictions for previous felonies, the most recent in 2003 and most in Santa Cruz County in the 1990s.

Other special allegations include that the fire injured multiple victims, including a firefighter; that it caused multiple inhabited structures to burn; and that Huntsman acted with premeditation and with intent to cause injury and damage. It sets the damage at more than $6.5 million, a statutory limit that increases the seriousness of the charge and could allow for Huntsman to face a sentence of from 10 years to life in prison.

Officials had feared that last week's major storm might cause mudslides in the area burned by the King Fire and in areas scarred by an older fire near Yosemite National Park.

That did not happen, California Emergency Management Agency spokesman Kelly Huston said Monday.

"We didn't see any dramatic stuff over the weekend," he said. "Nothing yet."

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