Suspect arrested for Nicolls Fire

Alleged marijuana grower charged with starting wilderness blaze

Suspect arrested for Nicolls FireA 45-year-old Perris man was arrested last week in connection with the Nicolls Fire, which burned some 1,700 acres of public land from July 11-21.

A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Edgardo Fournier, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. The list of charges include the cultivation, possession and intent to distribute marijuana, as well as damage to public lands and natural resources.

According to court documents, Fournier was involved in the cultivation of some 2,100 marijuana plants in the Smith Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest. He allegedly started several fires at the site, which rapidly spread to the Kiavah Wilderness Area in what is now known as the Nicolls Fire.

Hundreds of personnel from various agencies battled the blaze over the life of a fire that reportedly destroyed upward of 20 structures, scorched public lands and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Forest Service agents discovered the cultivation site, where they eradicated the plants and seized ammunition on the property. “The marijuana cultivation operation caused significant damage to the land and natural resources of the forest,” according to a spokesperson of the USFS.

The Bureau of Land Manage-ment and Kern County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Forest Service in its investigation.

Fournier reportedly made statements to officials that he had been hired in April to tend the remote marijuana crop. The defendant reported that believed his co-workers intended to kill him. Court documents indicate that Fournier fled the scene after the fire began and ran to Onyx, where he reported the blaze to the authorities.

The defendant stated that he had been using methamphetamines and did not know how many fires he started.

If Fournier is convicted of the drug offenses, he faces 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. For damaging public lands, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of causing the fire, he faces an additional five years in prison and another $250,000 fine.

“Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines,” stated Wagner, who represents the Eastern District of California.

Fournier’s arrest marks the second time this month that a California wildfire has been linked to a marijuana cultivation site. A 27-year-old Sacramento man was arrested on suspicion of causing the Bully Fire in Shasta County.

Smoke from the Nicolls Fire paints a recent sunset. Photo by Rosie Burdette

Story First Published: 2014-07-30