USA — A hunter accused of starting the wildfire that tore through Yosemite National Park and the Sierra foothills this year is expected to face federal charges, said the district attorney of Tuolumne County, where the blaze ignited.
Michael Knowles said on his office’s website that the U.S. attorney’s office has indicated it will charge the suspect, who has not been identified. He said federal attorneys will lead the prosecution because they have greater resources.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento, which has jurisdiction in Tuolumne County, declined to comment Thursday.
Federal firefighting officials have said the hunter lit an illegal campfire in the Stanislaus National Forest, which grew out of control and became the 402-square-mile Rim Fire, the third-biggest blaze on record in California.
The fire, which started Aug. 17, burned into the western stretches of Yosemite, shutting down roads and prompting visitors to cancel vacations, while destroying 11 homes and dozens of cabins, including many at the city of Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp.
State officials have estimated losses in excess of $50 million. The cost of firefighting was estimated at $127 million.
Consequences for igniting a wildfire – even when accidental – have varied historically and often hinge upon whether the fire-starter was reckless.
Last month, Contra Costa County prosecutors said a target shooter who ignited a September fire on Mount Diablo with a rifle will not face criminal charges.
In one of the more severe punishments, a man accused of igniting the 2004 Bear Fire near Redding while mowing dry grass got four years in prison. The fire destroyed 86 homes. The fire-starter was accused of ignoring warnings not to mow, telling one passerby, “Go to hell.”