Man charged with triggering massive California wildfire

Man charged with triggering massive California wildfire

A young resident of Columbia, a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been charged with triggering a wildfire that raged for two months across 400 sq. miles of land in California last year.

Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, was on a hunting trip in a remote corner of the Stanislaus National Forest Aug. 17, 2013. He allegedly started a campfire even as fires were prohibited in the area. The fire spread beyond his control and eventually turned into the huge Rim Fire.

Emerald himself was rescued by firefighters using a helicopter an hour after someone else reported the fire to the department.

After reciting several inconsistent stories about what caused the fire, Emerald eventually acknowledged that he had started the fire by burning trash from his backpack to cook a meal. But some of embers blew uphill, setting the brush on fire.

In the affidavit, he wrote, "The terrain was almost vertical, so I physically couldn't put it out. The wind was blowing up the canyon hard enough to almost blow my hat off."

The wildfire engulfed several hundred miles of land, including a part of Yosemite National Park. It destroyed at least 11 homes and threatened several other structures, and cost more than $125 million to the fire department.

Bringing criminal charges against Emerald, U. S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner pointed out that the Rim Fire was one of the biggest in wildfires in California's history that caused huge environmental as well as economic harm.

The charges followed an extensive probe by the U. S. Forest Service and the district attorney's office of Tuolumne County.

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