BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - A suspected marijuana grower was indicted Thursday on charges that include igniting a wildfire that burned a remote part of Sequoia National Forest in Central California.
In his defense, Edgardo Fournier-Nigaglioni, 45, told investigators that he set a series of fires in Kern County with a cigarette lighter as he ran from fellow growers he believed were plotting his murder.
His attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.
This marks the second California wildfire this month linked to a marijuana grow. A 27-year-old Sacramento man was arrested and accused of causing the Bully Fire in Shasta County, when truck exhaust ignited dry grass while delivering material to a grow site.
Fournier-Nigaglioni, of Perris, is charged with starting the Nicolls Fire, which erupted July 11 and burned more than 2 square miles in the mountains northeast of Bakersfield.
According to court papers, the defendant was hired in April to tend the remote marijuana crop. He told investigators his two co-workers' attitudes toward him changed, and he believed one of them had dug a grave to dispose of his body rather than pay him what he was owed.
The defendant said he had been using methamphetamine and didn't know how many fires he started that day.
A helicopter pilot dousing the flames said he saw Fournier-Nigaglioni, shirtless and tattooed, waving him to a landing spot. The pilot didn't land.
The defendant ran to the town of Onyx and asked a resident to call authorities, court papers say.
Brian Adams, a special agent for U.S. Forest Service investigations, said he found the crop of about 2,000 marijuana plants, and the supposed grave looked more like a trash pit.
Prosecutors said Fournier-Nigaglioni remained held in jail because they believe may try to escape the federal charges. If convicted, he faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and up to a $10 million fine.
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