The Rim Fire, an enormous wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park, started on August 17th when an illegal fire set by a hunter got out of his control.
The U.S. Forest Service had banned fires outside of designated camping areas more than a week before the fire started, due to high fire danger in the region.
A statement released by the Forest Service did not give details as to how the fire in a remote part of the Stanislaus National Forest escaped the hunter’s control.
The agency said there is no evidence to believe the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation, which a local fire chief with the Twain Harte Fire Department had earlier speculated was the possible cause of the blaze.
No arrests have been made in the case, and the hunter’s name is not being released pending further investigation. It is unclear if the hunter turned himself in.
“We’re not going to release any more information while the investigation is ongoing,” said Ray Mooney, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Once the investigation is complete, the U.S. Department of Justice will decide whether or not to seek restitution. In the past, some people who have started wildfires in California were sued to pay for the costs and damages. The Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the matter.
Fire officials said 111 structures, including 11 homes, have been destroyed by the wildfire, which has burned close to 371 square miles of forest. Thousands of firefighters from across the country were called in to contain the blaze, which at its worst threatened more than 4,000 structures. It is now 80% contained.
The Rim Fire is one of the largest wildfires in California history and has cost state and federal agencies $81 million to fight.
The state’s largest wildfire on record, the Cedar Fire, occurred in 2003 in the Cleveland National Forest, east of San Diego. It was sparked by Sergio Martinez, a lost deer hunter who set a signal fire for rescuers.
The fire burned nearly 430 square miles, destroyed more than 2,200 homes and was responsible for 15 deaths. It resulted in upwards of $2 billion in property damage.
Martinez was sentenced to six months in a work-furlough program, 960 hours of community service and five years of probation.
Source: Huffington Post