Burning over a quarter of a million square miles, the Rim Fire was one of the largest and most devastating wildfires ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada. It started on August 17, 2013 and burned until October 24, 2014, destroying 11 homes and 101 buildings. Well, authorities recently charged a bow hunter in connection with the Rim Fire.
A federal grand jury indicted 32-year-old Keith Matthew Emerald of Columbia, California for starting the devastating fire. Officials believe Emerald was on a solo bow hunting tip in the Clavey River basin, when he started a fire to cook some food. The ultra dry conditions and high wind gusts created a dangerous scenario, however, stirring the fire while sending burning embers uphill.
The fire quickly grew out of control, placing Emerald in direct danger. Thankfully, a rescue helicopter found the stranded bow hunter and was able to carry him off to safety about an hour after the fire was reported.
During the initial talks with investigators, Emerald said he started the fire on accident by slipping on some rocks which subsequently sparked nearby dry vegetation. In September, however, he changed his story, writing in a confession that he started the fire with some twigs and pine needles. He reported that some of the burning embers from his campfire blew uphill and started the fire.
But the story doesn’t end there. Just weeks later, Emerald said he was coerced into writing the confession. Court documents reveal that he even blamed the fire on marijuana growers in the region, who he said encroached on the national property.
Although no one died as a result of the fire, it destroyed over $127 million worth of property and injured dozens of residents and firefighters.
“The Rim Fire was one of the largest in California history and caused tremendous economic and environmental harm. While those harms cannot be undone, today we have brought criminal charges relating to the cause of that fire. I want to commend the Forest Service agents for their diligent and extensive investigation,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, whose eastern district includes the Sierra.
Emerald is being charged with one felony count of starting a forest fire while a ban is in place, one felony count of lying to investigators about the incident, and a misdemeanor count of leaving a fire unattended. If convicted, Emerald faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.