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Three boys suspected of setting a brushfire that destroyed...

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Three boys suspected of setting a brushfire that destroyed 28,000 acres of scenic mountain timber, watershed, and valuable Indian canyons and cost $3 million to quell will not be prosecuted, the Riverside County Probation Department said Friday.

The massive mountain inferno burned for two weeks and injured 42 of the 1,650 firefighters who battled the flames.

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It destroyed or damaged six vacation homes worth $250,000 in San Andreas Canyon of Mount San Jacinto and charred the popular 500-tree Palm Canyon grove that draws many tourists in the winter.

Three boys, an 8-year-old and two 11-year-olds, who were playing with matches, started the fire, authorities said. But the law protects the young, prosecutors explained.

Byron Morton, Riverside County district attorney, said there was insufficient evidence to charge the boys with arson. The youths could have been charged with negligence for letting a fire get out of control, he said, but it would be difficult.

Bruce Howell, a senior probation officer, said the ages of the boys were the 'major factor' in the decision not to prosecute. Other prosecutors confirmed it is difficult to prosecute children.

'In a section of the penal code, children under age 14 are given immunity unless you can prove that they knew the wrongfulness of the act they were committing,' Al Albergate, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

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The younger boy has moved out of the area and the 11-year-olds will be required to attend mental health counseling sessions or psychotherapy.

A Palm Springs police detective said the youngsters displayed no remorse while being interviewed by investigators and that one of the 11-year-olds made obscene gestures at the police.

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