Judge grants delay in wildfire trial

Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008

It will be at least two more months before the criminal case comes to trial against the California man charged in the Caribou Hills wildfire that blackened more than 55,000 acres last summer and destroyed at least 53 cabins.

Kenai District Court Judge Sharon Illsley on Thursday granted a continuance, setting the next trial call in the case for May 8 with a jury trial slated to begin during the week of May 12.

Charles Partridge, 61, was cited by the Alaska Division of Forestry on June 26, 2007, with one count of uncontrolled spread of fire after sparks from a grinder he was using to sharpen a shovel June 19 ignited grass and the fire spread off the property where he was working, according to the charging document.

Defense attorney Chuck Robinson, representing Partridge telephonically Thursday, said it is his understanding that once a civil compromise is worked out, District Attorney June Stein will dismiss the criminal case against his client.

Assistant District Attorney Angela Jamieson, however, said, "I am not making any representation on record that the (criminal) case is to be dismissed."

Illsley wanted to know what is holding up the proceedings, to which Robinson explained negotiations are ongoing between the Alaska Department of Law and civil attorneys.

"From my discussions, this case is near settlement," Robinson said.

Jamieson agreed that the reason for the delay is the civil attorney's schedule.

A former Soldotna resident, Partridge said earlier, at the time the sparks ignited the grass, he had been helping build a cabin for his son in the Caribou Hills area east of Ninilchik.

High winds and low humidity fanned the blaze, which eventually burned at least 53 cabins and residences, 79 outbuildings and 55,648 acres.

Firefighters worked more than two weeks to contain the fire.

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