PHOENIX – Federal charges have been filed against two Arizona cousins accused of accidentally causing the largest forest fire in the state’s history by leaving a campfire unattended.
The U.S. attorney’s office on Wednesday announced the charges against Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson.
The U.S. Forest Service said its investigators determined the men were camping in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest when the fire began there May 29.
The agency said the two were out hiking when their campfire spread outside its fire ring in high winds.
“Upon noticing smoke from the direction of their campsite, the cousins attempted to get back to their campsite where they had left their gear,” the Forest Service said in a statement. “As they got closer, the smoke and flames became too intense, and they were forced to retreat.”
The men each face five counts, including leaving a fire unattended and failing to maintain control of a fire that damaged a National Forest System.
A conviction for each of the offenses charged in the complaint carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
Winds whipped the Wallow fire as it burned more than 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona and parts of western New Mexico, destroying 32 homes, four commercial structures and 36 outbuildings.
It cost more than $79 million to fight before firefighters and monsoon rains eventually put out the flames.