La Laguna Ranch, Workers to Be Prosecuted for Zaca Fire

Arraignment Set for Sept. 20 in Santa Maria

Two ranch workers are being criminally prosecuted for starting the Zaca Fire. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s filed a complaint today against Jose Jesus Cabrera, 38, of Santa Ynez, and Santiago Iniguez Cervantes, 46, of Santa Maria, charging them with four felony counts of “recklessly causing a fire”: one count each for each of three injured firefighters, and one for the fact that the fire burned forest land. They are also accused of carelessness with a flaming substance, which is a misdemeanor, and failing to secure a Hot Work Permit before making the repair, which is an infraction. The penalty could range, according to the DA, from a fine and probation to nine years in prison plus six months in county jail.

The largest fire in Santa Barbara County history started when sparks from a grinder fell onto dry vegetation on the morning of July 4. According to Robert Sanger, the attorney representing Cabrera, the workers were attempting to repair a broken water pipe leading to a water trough. They cleared the vegetation within 10 feet of where they were working, said Sanger, “but the sparks few further than expected.” Their attempts to douse the fire with water from the trough were futile. A Fire Department helicopter flying overhead spotted the fire.

Rancho La Laguna, a limited liability company (LLC) which owns the land where the fire started, is being charged with the same counts. The identities of the LLC members-or member, as it could be just one person-are unknown, said Deputy District Attorney Jerry Lulejian, who explained that under California law an LLC “is a legal person,” which cannot be jailed, but can be fined and put on probation. Cervantes, Cabrera and legal representation for Rancho La Laguna are expected to appear in a Sept. 20 arraignment in Santa Maria. The member of members of the LLC are not obligated to appear or identify themselves.

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