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Felony dropped in Calif. wildfire case

Jan. 29, 2013 at 6:22 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Prosecutors dropped a felony charge leveled against a California man for unintentionally sparking a massive 2008 wildfire, the man's defense lawyer said.

Channing Verden, a contractor hired by the state to burn off brush to prevent a wildfire from starting, was initially charged with reckless burning for the blaze that got out of control and turned into the Summit Fire, which destroyed 63 homes and 69 outbuildings, and charred 4,280 acres. It cost more than $14 million to suppress.

Verden's lawyer said prosecutors should drop the charges after they declined to prosecute a state trooper who had similarly let a controlled burn get out of control, causing the nearly $5 million Loma Fire to break out in 2009, the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday.

"In the name of justice, they have taken an important step in the right direction," said Verden's lawyer, deputy public defender Javier Rios. "My client has been put through the mill, while their own guy, the firefighter, didn't even get charged with a misdemeanor."

Verden still faces a misdemeanor charge of failure to prevent the escape of a fire in connection with the Summit Fire and could spend up to six months in jail if convicted, Rios said.

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