Man Pleads No Contest to Starting the Ponderosa Fire, faces up to 14 years 4 months at state prison when sentenced

The man responsible for the 4,000 acre Ponderosa Fire which started at the end of this August was in Butte County Superior Court today where he plead no contest to arson and admitted to an enhancement that his reckless arson burned multiple structures. He faces up to 14 years 4 months in state prison when he is sentenced next month.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey said John Edward Ballenger, 30, of Oroville, was accused of illegally camping on what he believed to be his family property next to Sucker Run creek near the Ponderosa Dam on the South Fork of the Feather River. District Attorney Mike Ramsey said Ballenger told CAL FIRE arson investigators he had been camping on the creek for approximately a month and during that time had an illegal campfire which he never put out. Ballenger said he let the campfire smolder during the day which made it easier to start back up each night, because “he had no matches.”

On August 29, 2017, investigators said Ballenger reheated a breakfast of potatoes over his campfire, then left it burning when he went for a walk upstream. Investigators determined the flames died down but the embers remained hot and glowing. Hot embers escaped from the unattended fire and began to burn scrub fuels surrounding the campfire. The fire crept uphill, away from the campfire and encountered heavier fuels, allowing the fire to begin to burn more strongly and then to take off in areas which had not been touched by wildfire in over 70 years. Ballenger said he hid under a boulder while embers rained down on him from the fire, waiting until he heard the voices of the CAL FIRE investigators at his camp site before crawling out from under his rock.

The Ponderosa fire burned 32 residences and an additional 23 other structures. 4,016 acres burned between August 29, 2017, and September 23, 2017, when the fire was finally contained.

Ramsey commented that “the careless destruction of so many homes, buildings, and beautiful forest land will affect our community for years to come. Holding Ballenger responsible for the devastation he caused will hopefully allow the victims to start healing.”

Victims of the fire will be allowed to speak at Ballenger’s sentencing which is scheduled for January 26, 2018. Ballenger will also be held responsible for restitution for those victims which is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

In the meantime the Butte County District Attorney’s Victim Assistance Bureau has been assisting the fire victims with relocation and medical expenses. (See attached previous press release on this issue.)

DA also reminds of the financial help for Victims issued back in September 2017.

John Edward Ballenger

Today’s Press release:


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