A mild breeze was blowing when a Hollister Ranch resident saw smoke and flames on the ridge above his property just before noon on March 12. Alarmed, as the winter was exceedingly dry this year, he alerted ranch security, then headed up a dirt road to what looked like a half-acre blaze on the east side of the ridge between Cuarta and Alegria canyons. Stepping out of some brush and trees about 100 feet from the flames was Edward Junior Macklin. Following an investigation by Santa Barbara County Fire, Macklin was charged with arson, a felony, and three misdemeanor trespass and drug-related violations. Macklin has denied all charges and pled not guilty during an arraignment on June 17.
According to the documents filed with the court, Macklin said he’d been lying on a wooden platform for a couple of days and awakened to fire. He was dehydrated, and the resident gave him five or six bottles of water, which he downed. A paramedic examined him, finding Macklin to be alert and oriented but dehydrated, and Macklin was taken to the hospital before being booked into County Jail on $75,000 bail. Though described as a transient, Macklin said he lived in Grover Beach, was dressed in black clothing, and carried a lighter, as well as drug paraphernalia and three more lighters in a small backpack.
The fire broke out about two miles to the west of Hollister Ranch’s border with Gaviota State Park and burned about 120 acres before being contained later that week. Two firefighters were injured in the remote and rugged terrain the fingers of fire were tucked into, one of them suffering a collapsed lung, said County Fire spokesperson Captain Scott Safechuck.
The court filing states the investigation team was at the site before the fire was out and found a 3×6-foot area they deemed to be where the fire started. A wooden platform approximately 15 feet across was about 1,000 feet away. No potential ignition source like a cigarette was located, and the weather was too humid and cool to promote a cigarette-caused fire, the report stated. The resident who was interviewed was familiar with the area, as he hiked and biked it regularly. It was a remote area of the ranch without housing, and he told investigators he’d never seen anyone there before. Most trails were made by cattle and wildlife.
Macklin could face as many as 20 years in prison, as his arson charge carries a three- to five-year enhancement due to the firefighter injuries, though an initial charge of causing a fire during a state emergency was dropped.