A federal grand jury in Fresno, CA today charged Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of Columbia, with starting a fire last year that became the largest recorded fire in the Sierra Nevada and the third largest in the state. More than 250,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park were burned in what was called the Rim Fire. More than 125 million dollars was spent in bringing the fire under control and more funds will be needed for years to come to reduce erosion and deal with hazardous trees according to U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore. Forest closures remain in effect in some areas of Stanislaus National Forest until November 18, 2014.
"The indictment charges that on August 17, 2013, Emerald kindled a fire in the Stanislaus National Forest and allowed the fire to spread beyond his control. At the time of the fire, temporary fire restrictions were in place that prohibited fires. In addition, Emerald is charged with lying to a federal agent when he told them that he did not set the fire," according to a press release from the US Forest Service.
According to court documents, only an hour after the fire began Emerald was rescued from Stanislaus National Forest area by helicopter. He told investigators that he had been hunting and was carrying a bow. Allegedly he at first denied starting the fire, then gave contradictory stories. Subsequent investigation indicated that a campfire had gotten out of control and quickly spread to the surrounding area, which is extremely rough terrain.
Emerald is facing charges that could lead to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. It is noted that under the law there is a presumption of innocence until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Info about the Rim Fire at the Stanislaus National Forest website.