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Trucker pleads not guilty to causing deadly 1,000 acre wildfire 

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A truck driver has pleaded not guilty to causing a massive wildfire in California back in 2019. 

The October 2019 blaze started when Antonio Ornelas Velazquez noticed smoke coming from his dump truck while driving along Sandalwood Drive near Seventh Street in Desert Hot Springs. Velazquez then pulled over onto the side of the road and was followed by another truck driver, who warned him of the dangers of dumping the material. Velazquez then ignored the other driver’s advice and “dumped the burning load onto the ground,” right next to dry vegetation and during a period of high winds. 

The 40 mph Santa Ana winds quickly spread the fire into the nearby Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park. 61-year-old Hannah Labelle and 89-year-old Lois Arvikson were killed when their homes became engulfed in flames, and a total of 72 structures were completely destroyed in the fire. 16 structures were damaged, and a total of 1,011 acres were burned before crews got the fire stopped at the border of San Bernardino County four days later, reported Patch News California.

Lawsuits have been filed against Velazquez’s company. Velazquez has since pleaded not guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter, and one count of burning an inhabited structure. There is now a felony settlement conference scheduled for August 15th, and Velazquez has been released on a $75,000 bond after being arrested in February 2021. 

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