Federal Charges Filed in Massive Arizona Wildfire

By MARK CARLSON | August 26, 2011

Federal charges have been filed against two cousins accused of accidentally causing the largest forest fire in Arizona’s history by leaving a campfire unattended.

The U.S. attorney’s office on Wednesday announced the charges against Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson.

The U.S. Forest Service said its investigators determined the men were camping in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest when the fire began there May 29.

The agency said the two were out hiking when their campfire spread outside its fire ring in high winds.

“Upon noticing smoke from the direction of their campsite, the cousins attempted to get back to their campsite where they had left their gear,” the Forest Service said in a statement. “As they got closer, the smoke and flames became too intense, and they were forced to retreat.”

The men each face five counts, including leaving a fire unattended and failing to maintain control of a fire that damaged a National Forest System.

A conviction for each of the offenses charged in the complaint carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

Winds whipped the Wallow fire as it burned more than 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona and parts of western New Mexico, destroying 32 homes, four commercial structures and 36 outbuildings.

It cost more than $79 million to fight before firefighters and monsoon rains eventually put out the flames.

U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke said in a statement that the country’s national forests are among its most precious resources.

“We all have a responsibility to care for them when we visit,” Burke said. “This devastating fire destroyed pristine national forest, scenic wilderness and numerous nearby homes and cabins. Its cost for future generations goes well beyond the resources used to fight it.”

A message left at a phone listing for a Caleb J. Malboeuf in Benson was not immediately returned. No listing for David Malboeuf could be found, and it was unknown if either man had an attorney.

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