Neighbor Testifies in Cocos Fire Trial - NBC 7 San Diego

Neighbor Testifies in Cocos Fire Trial



    Neighbor Testifies in Cocos Fire Trial

    A neighbor and witness testified in court Wednesday, describing a blaze that ripped through several trees in his backyard. NBC 7’s Omari Fleming reports. (Published Wednesday, March 11, 2015)

    The next door neighbor of the girl accused of setting the Cocos Fire testified in court Wednesday, describing a blaze that the girl allegedly created.

    The teen suspect, who is charged with four felonies and was just 13 when she was arrested, is accused of setting a tree branch on fire in her backyard. That fire, prosecutors say, left behind an ember that floated away to cause the Cocos Fire.

    Testimony in court Wednesday centered around a witness and fire officials describing a fire the teen allegedly set  on May 14 in her backyard close to the neighbor's house.

    At approximately 3 p.m., the teen girl allegedly set a fire in her backyard near her neighbor's property. That fire spread to an area apparoximately 20 to 50 feet in diameter, a neighbor testified. 

    Former law enforcement official and neighbor of teen suspect Gunnar Stevens said he ran to help put out flames when he heard his wife scream “Fire!” 

    "It just shot up the trees," Stevens said. "Flames shooting up trees prompted me to get the hose."

    As he fought the fire with a rake and shovel, another neighbor came to help with a hose. Stevens said that the fire snaked up the trees and stretched above him on multiple trees. 

    About 20 minutes later, the fire department arrived and helped put out the fire and remaining hot spots. By that time, the fire was "out of control," the neighbor said. 

    "There was a lot of smoke," Stevens testified. "I'm not sure how you want me to describe it except there was a lot of fire."  

    Chris Morris, an attorney that does not represent either side, said in his opinion, the judge would likely weigh evidence over witness testimony. 

    "He is going to base his ruling on the actual verified scientific evidence from people who have the scientific expertise to make those opinions, not from passerbys or neighbors or residents," Morris said when asked about the importance of witness and neighbor testimony. 

    The girl faces four felony charges, including two counts of arson of an inhabited structure or property in which multiple structures were burned and two counts of arson of a structure or forest land in a reckless manner. She also faces a misdemeanor of unlawfully allowing a fire to escape from one’s control.

    The fire that sparked near Village Drive and Twin Oaks Road in May 2014 forced the evacuation of Cal State San Marcos and hundreds of other homes. It scorched 1,995 acres and cost the city of San Marcos approximately $10.4 million in damage and firefighting expenses.

    Officials have set up an information line for victims, where they can call for basic info on the case and leave messages with questions. That number is 858-694-4241.