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Two men who started Malibu Corral Canyon Fire sentenced to a year in jail

September 9, 2010 |  1:35 pm

Photo: Brian Anderson, left, and Will Coppock, right, talk with their lawyers as appear at their arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court in December of 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
Two men were sentenced to a year in Los Angeles County Jail for starting the Corral Canyon fire in 2007, one of the worst to strike Malibu in more than a decade.

Brian Alan Anderson, 25, and William Thomas Coppock, 26, were among the five men who, according to authorities, started an illegal late-night campfire in a cave in the Malibu hills, where young people were known to party on weekends.

Authorities alleged Anderson and Coppock were particularly at fault for the fire, which began around 3:30 a.m. two days after Thanksgiving in 2007 because they kicked burning pieces of wood and a pillow or pillowcases out of the cave. The fire destroyed 53 homes.

Both men have already served 200 days in County Jail, and so they have 165 more days to serve, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Susan Speer also ordered them on Thursday to stay away from Corral Canyon, perform 500 hours of community service, and write letters of apology to the 53 homeowners who lost their homes, the five seriously injured firefighters, and authorities who had to evacuate 14,000 people, Robison said.

The men will also be required to pay restitution, which will be considered at a hearing on Oct. 20. At a minimum, Speer ordered them to pay the $7.7 million for firefighting efforts alone, Robison said.

A third man, Brian David Franks, 30, pleaded no contest in 2008 and testified against Anderson and Coppock at a preliminary hearing. Franks was sentenced to five years' probation and 300 hours of community service.

Two other suspects, Dean Allen Lavorante, 22, and Eric Matthew Ullman, 21, have pleaded not guilty and face a pretrial conference on Oct. 20.

The late-night campfire party came at the worst possible time, with the air extremely dry and strong Santa Ana winds gusting up to 60 mph. The winds whipped up the campfire into a firestorm, which spread so fast across hills and canyons that residents had to flee in darkness with no time to save valuables. The fire ultimately burned 4,900 acres.

Using clues from the alcohol containers, food wrappers and bundled fire logs at the campfire site, detectives identified the suspects by checking store receipts at a Ralphs supermarket in Malibu, which led investigators to obtain information from the debit card that authorities believed was used to buy the items.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Brian Anderson, left, and William Coppock talk with their lawyers at their arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court in December 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times