A hunter who allowed an illegal campfire to leap out of control caused the massive blaze burning in and around California’s Yosemite National Park, investigators from the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday.
No arrests have been made, and the hunter’s name was being withheld “pending further investigation,” Forest Service spokesman Ray Mooney said.
Investigators declined to release further details Thursday, including where the hunter is from, whether they have interviewed him and whether there were other hunters involved.
But his excursion into the Stanislaus National Forest, where the Rim fire began west of Yosemite on Aug. 17, is not going to be cheap. Not only could the hunter face criminal charges and possible jail time, federal officials may send him a bill for the costs of putting out the fire – $81 million thus far.
“How much should he be worried? A lot,” said attorney Kyle Graham, a former national park ranger who now teaches law at Santa Clara University.
Even if the hunter isn’t a multimillionaire who could afford to pay all of the firefighting costs, that doesn’t mean he won’t be pursued for some of them, Graham said.
At its peak last week, more than 5,000 firefighters from around the nation were battling the blaze. The fire, now 80 percent contained, has burned 237,341 acres, including 66,155 acres within Yosemite National Park. It is the largest fire in recorded history in the Sierra Nevada. It also has destroyed 11 homes, dozens of other structures and caused five injuries.
The Forest Service says the blaze started in an area called Jawbone Ridge, near Groveland. There is no indication the hunter who started the campfire was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation, Forest Service officials said.