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Nude man allegedly started brush fire to 'set the land free'

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A 49-year-old man facing a felony arson charge allegedly admitted to starting a brush fire that burned nearly 2 acres of land in rural Arroyo Grande last month.

ARSON ALLEGATIONS A 49-year-old man allegedly said he was trying to "set the land free" when he started a brush fire near Talley Farms Fresh Harvest in October. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • ARSON ALLEGATIONS A 49-year-old man allegedly said he was trying to "set the land free" when he started a brush fire near Talley Farms Fresh Harvest in October.

During a Nov. 7 hearing in SLO County Superior Court, a Cal Fire investigator said that the man, Ezequiel Cisneros, admitted that he started the Oct. 6 blaze, located on a hillside near Talley Farms Fresh Harvest and the Las Ventanas housing tract, when he was questioned shortly after being found nude at the scene of the fire. At time, Cisneros also allegedly made bizarre statements about why he set the fire.

"He told me he started it to set the land free," Cal Fire SLO Cpt. Kevin McLean said.

Ryan Talley, part-owner of Talley Farms, said he initially spotted the fire while driving that evening. When he and a Talley Farms employee took a water truck up the hillside to put the fire out, Talley said they found Cisneros standing nude by a van surrounded by the flames.

"He was just standing there," Talley testified. "The fire was all around him until we put it out."

As firefighters arrived to extinguish the blaze, McLean said he questioned Cisneros, who does not speak English, using an interpreter. Through the interpreter, Cisneros reportedly told him that he started the fire using "his hand and a lighter." McLean testified that Cisneros was found in possession of a lighter and a glass pipe at the scene of the fire. Near the fire, McLean said he discovered remnants of burned clothing.

According to McLean, Cisneros then gave his explanation of why he'd started the fire, claiming he was trying to "give life to the people."

Under cross-examination from Cisneros's attorney, Matthew Guerrero, McLean said that he did not know whether Cisneros was intoxicated or impaired at the time of the incident.

Despite his odd remarks, both McLean and Talley characterized Cisneros' demeanor during the fire and his questioning as subdued and cooperative.

"He was docile," Talley said. "He wasn't yelling or screaming or anything like that."

At the hearing, Judge Hugh Mullin III found that there was enough evidence for the case to move forward. If convicted, Cisneros could face up to six years in prison. As of Nov. 8, he was being held in SLO County Jail on $50,000 bond.

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