Prison time for accidental fires

Every now and then we here stories, as we did today, of people being charged with setting forest fires accidentally. Although we don’t often hear of prison sentences, they’re not rare in cases like this.

Stephen Posniak, 64, is charged today with starting the Ham Lake fire, which burned 118 acres in Minnesota and Canada, by leaving a campfire unattended, and then lying to Forest Service officers. As usual, the cover-up is what gets you in trouble.

He faces five years in prison.

Earlier this year, a former Forest Service worker was sentenced to six years in prison for accidentally starting the 137,000 acre Hayman fire in the Pike National Forest in 2002. She was also ordered to pay restitution in the millions of dollars; tough to do on a government salary.

Another Forest Service employee, this one in Arizona, got two years in prison in 2007 for starting a prescribed burn that got out of control.

In 2003, a woman who admitted she started the worst fire on record in the Sequoia National Forest got 18 months in prison. She had lit a campfire that get out of hand.

Things went easier for a hunter who started one of the biggest forest fires in California history when he was sentenced to just 6 months of jail time, rather than the 5 years in prison he could’ve faced. Thousands of people lost their homes and the judge ordered the man to pay $150 a month restitution. The fire started when he got lost and set a signal fire. Fifteen people were killed in that fire.

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