Teen to learn punishment for starting Cocos Fire - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Teen to learn punishment for starting Cocos Fire

Posted: Updated:

SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A disposition hearing, similar to a sentencing in adult court, will be held Wednesday at Juvenile Hall for the teenage girl found guilty of starting the Cocos Fire, which blackened nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed more than 35 homes and other structures.

Unlike adult court, punishment is not the goal in the juvenile court process, but rather rehabilitation.

One member of the historic community in San Diego County decimated by the fire agrees with that philosophy. One of the primary casualties of last year's wildfires was the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association in Escondido. Renee Rhae has lived at Harmony Grove for the past 12 years, and last year her home, and nearly everything in it, burned to the ground. She is now only one of two residents currently living on the grounds and said she will remain living in a cottage until rebuilding is completed.

Rhae also said she believes the 14-year-old girl found guilty of starting the fire needs counseling, not incarceration.

"I just don't think that a jail sentence, or long term anything would help her. I think she needs to be helped," said Rhae.

Rhae said she had no ill will at all, even though she lost everything.

"She has a life ahead of her. People deserve a second chance," she said.

The teenage girl may not be the only one facing consequences for the wildfires she started. In certain cases, state law allows the court to hold parents and guardians partially responsible which could involve making restitution to victims who lost their homes. 

After a two-week non-jury trial, Judge Howard 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," Deputy District Attorney Shawnalyse Ochoa said in her closing argument.

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.

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.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 KFMB-TV. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.