Forty acres of land owned by accused arsonist Leonard Ross were
auctioned off to defray the costs of the 1990 Painted Cave fire
that destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed one woman. The county
successfully sued Ross, 52, in civil court for starting the fire in
furtherance of a grudge match with his downwind neighbor, whose
home was the first to burn. Land developer Nick Narang — one of
only three bidders at the sheriff’s auction — paid $380,000 for the
rustic property located off Old San Marcos Pass and accessible by a
3.5-mile dirt road. Except for $50,000 Ross is permitted to keep
due to a homestead exemption, the money will go to Santa Barbara
County to help pay the $2.75 million in damages the court awarded
the county in 2000.

Ross — a Cabrillo Beach Arts and Crafts Show artisan who makes
solar-powered flapping butterflies — denies setting the fire, and
was never prosecuted because the District Attorney could not meet
the higher standard of proof required in criminal cases. The main
evidence against Ross in the civil case was the testimony of two of
his ex-girlfriends — one who stated he confessed to her five years
after the fact, and another who claimed Ross told her he made the
down payment on the 40 acres by setting fire to his Santa Barbara
motorcycle-parts shop in 1978. Ross has filed a federal lawsuit
alleging violation of his civil rights.


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