Pair accused in Eagle fire plead not guilty

Two men accused of starting a fire last month that burned about 22 square miles over 10 days in northeastern San Diego County pleaded not guilty to arson charges Friday.

Jeremy Joseph Ortiz and Jesse James Durbin, both 23, were each charged with aggravated arson and arson of forest land. Superior Court Judge Marshall Hockett set bail at $2 million for both defendants, who face 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez said the two set fire to a guard shack at the Eagle Rock Training Center on the edge of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.

The blaze spread out of control, charred 14,100 acres and left 18 firefighters with heat exhaustion, cuts, sprains, abrasions and other minor injuries. No homes were destroyed.

“Any time you set fire to a structure intentionally, burning it to the ground, it shows they are dangerous people,’' Perez said. She noted that the area where the fire started was especially likely to burn.

Perez said authorities plan to seek substantial restitution from the defendants. It cost about $15 million to fight the blaze.

Ortiz was arrested Thursday in the East County, while Durbin was already in custody on an unrelated auto theft charge.