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Oroville Man Who Started Ponderosa Fire Sentenced To 14 Years In Prison



An Oroville man whose illegal, unattended campfire caused the Ponderosa Fire that destroyed 32 homes in Feather Falls in August was sentenced to 14 years and four months in prison.

Several Feather Falls residents traveled down from their foothill community to the Oroville courthouse to attend the sentencing of John Ballenger, 30, of Oroville. He was convicted of reckless arson of forestland and structures.

Some residents at the hearing gave statements about losing their homes.

Ballenger received the maximum sentence and was ordered to pay $3 million in restitution for starting the Ponderosa Fire.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey says Ballenger lit a fire near Ponderosa Dam and kept it going for days.

"He didn't have matches and so he wanted to keep that campfire going which he used as a cooking fire," Ramsey said.

The fire got out of control once before and Ballenger was able to put it out, he added.

"However, three days later, that fire, still hot, [was] still going," Ramsey said. "He walked away from that still-going campfire and the wind came, blew the embers off and then caused that 4,000 acre Ponderosa Fire."

Ramsey says CAL FIRE spent $18.8 million fighting the fire.

The Feather Falls Grange is hosting a number of workshops for residents who are rebuilding.

Ballenger pleaded 'no contest' to the charges. 

There were no casualties.


Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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