Man Convicted in Huge Calif Wildfire

Man Convicted in Huge Calif Wildfire

15 February 2008

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USA — A homeless man was convicted Friday in federal court of starting a 2006 wildfire that burned more than 163,000 acres in California’s Los Padres National Forest.

The jury also convicted Steven Emory Butcher, 49, of starting the smaller Ellis Fire in the same forest four years earlier.

Butcher was found guilty of two felony counts of starting fires and of one count each of allowing a fire to escape his control, violating restrictions by building a fire on federal forest land and smoking in a federal forest, all misdemeanors.

Butcher’s lawyer, Deputy Federal Public Defender Jill Gintsling, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Both the fires burned in Piru Canyon, in a remote wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest. The Day Fire raged for more than a month and cost more than $78 million to suppress. It injured 18 people and destroyed 11 structures.

The Ellis Fire burned 70 acres.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Butcher had an illegal campsite in the canyon, where he lived for part of the year.

Butcher was first charged last August, along with seven other people and two companies, for their alleged roles in starting nine wildfires that together burned hundreds of thousands of acres in California.

Prosecutors have said they could seek restitution for fire suppression costs if they got a conviction in the case, but it was unclear Friday if they planned to do so.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph O. Johns did not immediately return a call for comment.

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