Investigator: Backyard Flames Do Not Necessarily Translate to Traveling Ember

Testimony continues from a neighbor and investigator in the arson trial of a Southern California teenager

A fire investigator testified Friday the flames started by a girl in her backyard did not necessarily have to create an ember that sparked the Cocos Fire.

The last day of testimony before closing arguments continued in the trial of the 14-year-old girl, who NBC 7 is not identifying because of her age. She face four felony counts.

The prosecution alleges when the girl used a lighter to set a branch on fire in her backyard, it started the smaller Washingtonia Fire. An ember from that blaze then traveled nearly half a mile, igniting the destructive Cocos Fire, they say.

A former firefighter and fire investigator testified in court Monday that the size of the fire and other conditions, such as the source of the ember, would dictate how far an ember could travel.

“It still depends on the size of the ember, and if it’s dry enough to burn, if it is burning, all that stuff,” said Lant Landis when he took the stand Monday.

In order to see an ember travel at all, Landis said, there would need to be convection and wind to move it.

There would need to be “more than smoke and wind needed to make an ember travel,” Landis said.

A San Marcos resident also testified during the trial about the breadth of the fire in the canyon.

“I went out and looked around and then I could see smoke over to the right so I went around the side of the house to the canyon and it was full-on fire on the side of the hill over there,” said San Marcos resident Robert Hoover.

“When I looked down there it was like, I mean the whole hillside was black,” said Hoover. “And the blackness was coming up, wafting up to our side, but down on the lower side it was like bubbling.”

Defense lawyers argued earlier that an ember from the family’s backyard could not have traveled the distance that prosecutors allege.

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