On Monday in Department 5 of the Tulare County Super Court, the court sentenced four defendants for their involvement in the 2017 Pier Fire near Springville.
On August 19, the defendants pleaded guilty as follows: Isiac Renteria, 23 — arson of a structure or forest, 4 counts of taking a vehicle without consent.
Richard Renteria, 25 — arson of a structure or forest, 4 counts of taking a vehicle without consent; Osvaldo Esparza-Guerrero, 24 — arson of a structure or forest, 3 counts of taking a vehicle without consent and Breane Ojeda, 25 — arson, 2 counts of taking a vehicle without consent.
IsiacRenteria, Richard Renteria, and Esparza-Guerrero were each sentenced to 8 years suspended with credit for 3 years actually served in custody. Ojeda was sentenced to 3 years, 4 months of suspended prison.
The defendants were also ordered to pay more than $40 million in restitution. A restitution hearing is scheduled for October 6.
Beginning in January 2024, state law prevents the sentence of life in prison to be imposed for aggravated arson with a loss of more than $8.3 million. The statute would be retroactively applied in this case.
In the early morning hours of August 29, 2017, the defendants deliberately set fire to a stolen car to destroy it, which in turn ignited the blaze Pier Fire which caused nearly $50 million in damages and costs to suppress. The Pier Fire was declared contained on September 24, 2017.
The Pier Fire burned 36,000 acres. All four of the suspects were from Visalia but had ties to Sacramento and were working for a car rental business. The 2017 Dodge Challenger that was found that started the fire had been reported stolen.
The fire forced the evacuation of nine communities, including Springville and Camp Nelson and threatened the Sequoia Crest resort area. The fire was in the Tule River Canyon and posed a serious threat to residents and firefighters. The fire closed Highway 190 for nearly a month.
Isiac Renteria is the cousin of Richard Renteria, who worked for a rental car company where the Challenger was taken.
“The change in law makes it not any option at this point in time,” said Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Dave Alavezos about a life sentence not being possible. “We have to follow the law the way it's written today.”
With the change of law there would have had to been some kind of personal injury for a life sentence to be considered. “I'm glad there wasn't personal injury to people,” said Alavezos when commenting on the Pier Fire.
Alavezos said the DA's office would have liked to have proceeded with the case with “what we originally charged (them) with,” commenting on the defendants, but that wasn't possible.
He asked of the DA's office was pleased with the outcome of the case under the circumstances, Alavezos said, “The word we want isn't happy. It's not content. We charged them with arson and they were sentenced to arson and that's kind of where I want to leave it.”