Plea deal reached in Norco ammunition case www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_H_ammo29.412e38c.html Download story podcast By PAIGE AUSTIN The Press-Enterprise A Norco man accused of stockpiling guns including illegal weapons and ammunition in his home may not end up doing prison time following a plea deal this week. Thomas Lee McKiernan, who was arrested earlier this month when his house caught fire and exposed his arsenal to authorities, remains in jail awaiting a sentence that could range from probation and psychological counseling to five years in prison. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to reduced counts of possessing an illegal assault rifle and explosives and scuffling with firefighters who tried to keep him from re-entering his burning home. In addition to escaping prison time, his wife, Sharon, might also be allowed to sell the legal elements of the gun collection to help pay for their uninsured home, said Deputy District Attorney Michael Mayman. A convicted felon, McKiernan won't be allowed to collect guns anymore. As part of the plea agreement, Mayman dropped two additional charges for possessing illegal assault rifles. The probation department will make sentencing recommendations, and Riverside Superior Court Judge Janice M. McIntyre will have final say in the matter, said Mayman. The prosecutor said the reduced charges are appropriate given the circumstances of the case. "He isn't a bad guy," said Mayman. "This guy has no criminal history, and nobody was hurt." Most of McKiernan's guns were collected over decades, and they include collector's pieces such as pre-World War II guns. His illegal assault rifles were bought before they were outlawed in 2000, indicating that McKiernan was at least trying to be a law-abiding collector, Mayman said. The problem, said Mayman, is that McKiernan's stockpile of gunpowder was a threat to the community. He had more than 185 pounds of gunpowder -- dozens of times the legal limit. One container of gunpowder exploded during the fire, he said. "The potential was there for a very large explosion that could have flattened surrounding homes," Mayman said. "This isn't so much a firearms case as it was an illegal storage case." The case triggered strong emotions in the community and among gun collectors. Some diehard gun collectors actually contacted the prosecutor to protest the case. Many in McKiernan's neighborhood came out in support of their neighbor when his arsenal made headlines. A retired machinist, McKiernan raised his children in the Pali Drive home he owned for more than 32 years. According to authorities, McKiernan was asleep on his couch March 2, when his water heater triggered the fire. A neighbor rescued him, but McKiernan struggled with firefighters who put out the blaze amid exploding rounds of ammunition. Neighbors had to be evacuated, and after it was over, authorities found the arsenal and a 30-foot long tunnel beneath the house.