Hunter charged with starting huge Rim Fire in Yosemite

Investigators said the deer hunter now charged with starting last year's Rim Fire, the third largest in California history, tried to blame it on marijuana growers.
By Frances Burns  |  Aug. 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM
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SONORA, Calif., Aug. 8 (UPI) -- A deer hunter who was rescued from last year's huge Rim Fire in the California Sierras has been charged with starting it with an out-of-control campfire.

An indictment released Thursday charged Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of Columbia, a town near the Stanislaus National Forest with starting the fire and with lying to federal agents investigating its cause. He faces two felony and two misdemeanor counts.

Emerald was rescued by helicopter.

The Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17, 2013, was not completely extinguished until late October. It was the third largest wildfire in California and the largest ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada mountains, burning more than 400 square miles, threatening the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and destroying 11 homes, three commercial buildings and 98 other buildings.

A family camp operated by the city of Berkeley for more than 90 years was among the losses. Local officials said businesses in the area, ranchers who lost fencing and corrals and owners of timberland are still feeling the effects.

"The impacts of the Rim Fire on our public lands will continue for years to come," said Randy Moore of the U.S. Forest Service.

Investigators said Emerald, who had been bow hunting in the area, first said a rockslide set off the blaze and then suggested it was started by growers of illegal marijuana. He eventually admitted he lit a campfire, prohibited at the time, to heat some soup and the flames spread.

Emerald faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted.

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