April 24, 2018
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Hunter charged with starting massive California wildfire

By Curtis Skinner, Reuters

— A grand jury has indicted a California hunter accused of starting a massive wildfire that burned over 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park last year and caused millions of dollars in damage, court documents filed on Thursday show.

Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, was indicted by a grand jury for setting timber afire, leaving that fire unattended, violating a fire restriction order and lying to a federal investigator, according to the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern California.

The blaze, dubbed the Rim Fire, erupted in August 2013 in a remote area of the Stanislaus National Forest and eventually consumed over 250,000 acres of land there and in nearby Yosemite National Park, causing at least $127 million in damage.

A search warrant affidavit filed in the case said that Emerald originally said a rockslide he caused sparked the blaze, but later admitted that he started a campfire with pine needles and twigs and a gust of wind blew embers into the nearby brush.

The campfire was built in defiance of U.S. Forest Service restrictions imposed at the time due to dangerously hot, dry conditions in the area, officials said.

Emerald told authorities that he had to be rescued from the flames by helicopter, and was alone bowhunting for deer at the time, according to the affidavit.

“The Rim Fire was one of the largest in California history and caused tremendous economic and environmental harm. While those harms cannot be undone, today we have brought criminal charges relating to the cause of that fire,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of the Eastern District of California, whose office brought the case.

Emerald faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of the top counts of setting a fire and lying to a government agent.


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