LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The corporate owners of a Santa Barbara County ranch have paid $17 million to end an investigation and compensate state and federal agencies for the cost of fighting the second largest wildfire in California's recorded history, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
The four corporate entities that make up La Laguna Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley paid $14 million to the federal government, and three of the corporations paid a total of $3 million to the state of California for the Zaca Fire, which burned for four months in 2007, the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement.
The companies -- La Laguna Ranch LLC, Rancho La Laguna LLC, La Laguna Cattle Co. LLC, and Rancho Reata LLC -- admitted no wrongdoing. The U.S. attorney's office had been investigating the companies and the fire but had yet to file a civil lawsuit.
Sparks from a ranch worker's metal grinder started the blaze July 4, 2007, authorities said. The fire spread from the ranch to state land to the federally owned Los Padres National Forest, consuming 375 square miles, leaving 40 firefighters injured and threatening vineyards and other ranches before it was extinguished on Oct. 28, 2007.
The metal worker -- Jose Jesus Cabrera -- and Rancho La Laguna LLC were originally charged with felonies, but the charges were dropped.
Cabrera pleaded no contest to misdemeanor negligently setting a fire, and he was fined $200 and placed on three years' probation.
Copyright 2011 The AP.