Cousins charged in Arizona wildfire plead guilty

Mar 27, 2012, 8:20 PM

Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Two cousins charged with accidentally causing the largest wildfire in Arizona history pleaded guilty Tuesday to a pair of misdemeanor charges after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.

Caleb Malboeuf and David Malboeuf each face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine after admitting in federal magistrate court to leaving a campfire unattended and building a campfire without clearing flammable material to prevent it from escaping. The Malboeufs had each faced five charges and penalties that included more than two years behind bars and $30,000 in fines.

The cousins were camping in eastern Arizona’s Apache Sitgreaves National Forest last May when their campfire spread outside its ring. High winds whipped the blaze, later dubbed the Wallow Fire, which burned more than 538,000 acres in Arizona and parts of western New Mexico before it was fully contained on July 8.

The Malboeufs told U.S. Magistrate Mark Aspey that they believed the campfire was out because they did not see any flames or any smoke rising hours after they had lit it to cook breakfast. But they conceded that they had not stirred the coals or felt them to ensure it was properly extinguished before they went for a hike.

They smelled and saw smoke near the campsite on their way back.

Investigators for the U.S. Forest Service found David Malboeuf’s vehicle at a trailhead about two miles from where they believe the fire started, and the cousins’ possessions were at the campsite.

Caleb Malboeuf’s attorney, David Derickson, said he believes the cousins should be sentenced to probation instead of jail time.

“These are guys who are experienced campers, who spend 30 nights a year under the stars,” he said. “They’ve started and extinguished thousands of fires. The lesson is, no matter how dead you think a campfire is, you’ve got to put your hands in there, you’ve got to pour water on it to make sure it’s out.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider said the plea agreement was a reasonable resolution to a case in which the men had cooperated with authorities and offered consistent accounts of the camping trip. He said he will be soliciting input from fire victims on restitution and sentencing in the coming months. Sentencing is scheduled for June 20.

The fire destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins, and at one point, nearly 10,000 people were forced to evacuate. The firefighting effort cost more than $79 million.

“Everyone is affected differently by the fire, and there’s probably a wide variety of opinions regarding what ought to happen,” Schneider said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed ...
Associated Press

Release of toxic chemicals from derailed tanker cars begins in Ohio

Crews began releasing toxic chemicals into the air from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding Monday.
19 hours ago
Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) delivers remarks in the House Chamber during the third day of elections ...
Kevin Stone

Rep. Juan Ciscomani of Arizona to give GOP Spanish rebuttal to Biden speech

Freshman U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani of Arizona will deliver the Republican Spanish rebuttal to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday.
19 hours ago
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)...
Associated Press

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s split from Democrats shows party discord in Arizona

The Democrats' winning formula is in jeopardy ahead of the 2024 election after Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s divorce from the party.
19 hours ago
(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)...
Associated Press

US officials offer Congress briefing on Biden, Trump papers

The Biden administration has offered to brief congressional leaders on its investigation into the classified documents.
2 days ago
FILE - Mega Millions lottery tickets and a wager slip are displayed, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Derry...
Arizona Sports

Drawing nears for $700M Powerball prize, 10th biggest in US

Another huge lottery jackpot will be on the line Saturday for players willing to put up $2 vs. daunting odds of actually winning the prize.
3 days ago
Chinese spy balloon flies above in Charlotte NC, United States on February 04, 2023. The Pentagon a...
Associated Press

US downs suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast

The United States on Saturday downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
Cousins charged in Arizona wildfire plead guilty