SAN DIEGO (AP) – A federal grand jury indicted a hunter on charges he started the largest wildfire in California history – last year’s Cedar Fire, which charred 273,000 acres and killed 15 people.

A grand jury in San Diego returned the indictment Wednesday, charging Sergio Martinez, 34, of West Covina with setting timber afire last Oct. 25 and making a false statement. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on both counts.

Martinez started the fire to signal for help after he became lost on a deer hunting trip in the Cleveland National Forest, according to the county sheriff’s department.

Driven by hot Santa Ana winds, the Cedar Fire quickly swept through tinder-dry brush and trees, killing 15 people and burning more than 2,000 homes. It was the worst fire in the brutal onslaught last fall that killed 23 and destroyed 3,650 homes in six Southern California counties.

Martinez’s lawyer, Jose Martinez, was told of the grand jury indictment by a reporter and declined to comment.

The U.S. Forest Service had issued Sergio Martinez a misdemeanor citation that night for setting an unauthorized fire. He was released with a warning that he could face felony charges if people were injured or homes destroyed.

Martinez was severely dehydrated and borderline delirious when sheriff’s deputies in a rescue helicopter picked him up after responding to a call of a lost hunter, authorities said. When they first spotted Martinez, he was waving frantically from atop a small mountain as a nearby flame shot into the air.



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