As firefighters battled the wildfires currently raging through Sonoma County, one man allegedly looted several items from local businesses as well as first responders. The suspect, M. Plumere, was spotted stealing sunglasses from a vehicle located in one of the evacuation areas. When police searched him, they found an emergency fire shelter on his person. Police believed that the emergency fire shelter came from the fire department, as they’re commonly used as a firefighter’s last line of defense when facing inescapable flames.
Emergency fire shelters are thin sheets of heat-reflecting material that firefighters can carry with them. When a fire gets out of control and flames are inescapable, a firefighter will unfold the tent-like sheets and cover themselves as they crouch down. The shelters aren’t meant to protect the firefighters from sustained contact with high-intensity flames, but they can provide enough protection to save a life. As a matter of fact, they’ve saved the lives of over 300 firefighters since they were first introduced in 1977.
Plumere was arrested and charged with a number of crimes, including possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of stolen property, possession of prescription medications without a prescription and looting.
Looting is covered under California Penal Code 463 PC and can be charged when someone commits grand theft (487 PC), petty theft (488 PC), or burglary(459 PC) during a state of emergency. A state of emergency can be declared by the California governor or a local governing body and are usually declared as a result of earthquakes, floods, wildfires, riots or other storms or severe weather.
The penalties for looting will depend on what crime was committed during the state of emergency. Both looting by burglary and looting by grand theft are “wobblers,” while looting by petty theft is always a misdemeanor with the possible penalty of 90 days to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine. The misdemeanor penalties for looting by burglary and looting by grand theft include up to 1 year in county jail but no less than 180 days. The felony penalty includes 16 months to 3 years in jail.