Written by AARON CASTREJON | CityWatch Editor
LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has charged two men Thursday accused of setting a brush fire in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Glendora man Christopher Paul Ortega, 20, and Covina man Santino Francisco Gnaulati, 21, each face one felony count of arson of a structure or forest. Both men pleaded not guilty, according to Ricardo Santiago of the DA’s Office.
Good Samaritans followed Ortega and Gnaulati from the scene as they fled in a white GMC pickup Just before 3 a.m. August 7 near Morris Dam along Highway 39.
The Good Samaritans followed the suspects as they drove down San Gabriel Canyon Road until they got cell phone service to call authorities.
Ortega and Gnaulati were taken into custody by San Dimas Sheriff’s deputies after they were detained by Azusa Police officers on Sierra Madre Avenue west of Azusa Avenue, according to Sgt. Pete Shupe of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s San Dimas Station.
“Azusa PD received a phone call from people who said they were following a vehicle in which they saw two males start a fire,” Shupe said.
The fire burned about one-quarter of an acre near Morris Dam in the 9500 block of North San Gabriel Canyon Road. Los Angeles County firefighters were dispatched to assist the U.S. Forest Service at 2:53 a.m. August 7.
Ortega and Gnaulati allegedly set the fire in a turnout along San Gabriel Canyon Road.
Firefighting helicopters from both county fire and the U.S. Forest service assisted ground crews.
“Thanks to the quick thinking and vigilance of the passerby, the fire was extinguished and suspects arrested,” said the U.S. Forest Service in a written statement.
“Although small, left unchecked, this fire had the potential to threaten life, property and resources in the forest and nearby cities.”
Ortega and Gnaulati are scheduled to return to West Covina Superior Court August 29.
If convicted as charged, Ortega and Gnaulati face a possible maximum sentence of six years in state prison, Santiago said.