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Charges Dropped Against Rim Fire Starter

Update May, 2015 - Criminal charges were dropped against a hunter accused of starting California's Rim Fire after two key witnesses unexpectedly died.

Update May, 2015
Charges Dropped Against Hunter

U.S. News and World Report reported that criminal charges were dropped against a bow hunter accused of starting one of California’s largest wildfires, a blaze that burned parts of Yosemite National Park. The decision came after two key witnesses unexpectedly died within months of an indictment that was handed down last year against Matthew Emerald. Prosecutors said that without testimony from the two witnesses, they did not believe they could prove the allegations to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt. Previous statements made by the two witnesses can’t be used in court.

Update February, 2014
Rim Fire Area Responds Well to Rain

After a lengthy period of drought up to six inches of rain fell on the Yosemite Rim Fire area between February 7-11. Original fears that the rain would wash out roads when the burn area could not absorb the extra water were quelled as preemptive safeguards held up. On February 14th President Obama visited California, flying in and out of Fresno Yellowstone International airport (before heading to Palm Springs), to discuss local water issues with community leaders and farmers. The severity of the Yosemite Rim Fire has renewed discussion regarding preventing, or reducing the severity of, forest fires. There has been debate over thinning dead trees and underbrush in an effort to prevent rapid fire spread; the philosophy coined “Let it Burn” by the media allows smaller forest fires to run their course, essentially thinning the forest naturally. “Let it Burn” was common practice in Yellowstone National Park until 1988 when a massive fire rocked the park, burning thousands of acres and requiring millions of dollars and hours of manpower to fight the blaze.

Update December, 2013
Hunter Faces Federal Charges

The hunter accused of starting last fall’s Yosemite Rim Fire will now face federal charges.

According to Federal sources, the hunter started a campfire which grew out of control, becoming the 402-square-mile Rim Fire. The fire was the third largest fire in California’s recorded history.

The anonymous hunter could face fines, community service, or jail time if convicted. A similar recent case where a person ignored warnings and accidentally caused the 2004 Bear Fire, resulted in a four-year jail sentence. What do you consider appropriate for causing $175 million in damages and services?

Photo by Bryan Farrell

Update September 2013
Fire Not Started by Marijuana

Fire officials initially suspected that illegal marijuana growers had started the Rim Fire burning near Yosemite National Park, but they have now concluded that the blaze began when a hunter’s illegal fire swept out of control. As of September 9 the fire has covered 394 square miles, making it the largest wildfire in the U.S. to date this year, and poising it to overtake the Zaca Fire of 2007 as the third biggest wildfire in California history.

“It started out in the brush. We know it was human-caused,” Todd McNeal, chief of the Twain Harte Fire Department, told a community meeting on August 23. The meeting was also posted to YouTube. “But we don’t know the exact cause. We highly suspect it may have been some sort of illicit marijuana grove.”

As of September 4, the fire is 80 percent contained; however the damage it has already caused is extensive. Not only has it taken 111 structures—including 11 homes—but the restoration process will also be long and intensive. Utility crews will need to remove roughly 7,000 damaged trees standing near power lines and replace nearly 800 guardrail posts along Route 120.

Fire officials predict that the blaze will continue to burn even after the fire is fully contained.

Time Lapse of Yosemite Fire in September 2013

Three Minute Video