US & Canada

Wallow Fire: Cousins charged over Arizona wildfire

A pine tree burns in Apache National Forest in Arizona on 12 June
Image caption The Wallow fire spread through south-western Arizona and into New Mexico

Two cousins have been charged with negligently setting the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

The Wallow Fire, which consumed 804 sq miles (2,080sq km), started from a campfire lit by Caleb Malboeuf, 26, and David Malboeuf, 24, both of Arizona, according to charging documents.

The two experienced campers left the fire unattended and went for a hike in the Apache National Forest on 29 May.

The fire destroyed 32 houses and cost more than $79m (£48.2m) to fight.

It was not fully contained until 8 July.

Lost to the future

"Our national forests are among our most precious resources and we all have a responsibility to care for them when we visit," US Attorney Dennis Burke of Arizona said in a statement announcing the charges.

"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."

Image caption Firefighters fought the Wallow Fire with controlled burns in the hopes of reducing available fuel

The Malboeufs were charged in US district court in Arizona with five counts each of violating regulations pertaining to lighting fires on federal land. They face a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

In a charging document viewed by the BBC, US Forest Service Investigator Lucas Woolf said that on 29 May, the two men were camping with their two dogs near the Bear Wallow Creek in the Apache National Forest in Arizona.

They cooked breakfast over a small campfire, then left to hike down into a canyon. They believed the campfire had gone out because one of the men threw a sweets wrapper into it and it did not melt, Mr Woolf wrote.

During their trip back up the canyon, they saw smoke coming from the area of their camp, and as they neared, they saw flames.

They rushed back to rescue their dogs, whom they had left tied up at camp, but were unable to do so.

'Every precaution'

They then escaped, and the next day returned to their car, which they had left at the trail head, Mr Woolf wrote.

On 12 June, after the fire had burnt out of control for nearly two weeks, investigators traced the source of the Wallow Fire to the men's camp.

There, they found the Malboeuf's belongings. One of the dogs had died, the other survived. Around the dog's necks were collars with tags printed with the Malboeuf's names, Mr Woolf wrote.

The men, who described themselves as experienced campers familiar with the Apache National Forest, co-operated with investigators.

They said they believed they had taken "every precaution" to prevent their campfire escaping, and "in no way did they intend to cause a forest fire".