Boys, 8, face felony arson charges in Idaho brush fire

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 01, 2011 7:58 PM
Boys, 8, face felony arson charges in Idaho brush fire

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Two 8-year-old Idaho boys are facing felony charges for igniting a wildfire that destroyed a house, prompted evacuations and took four days to extinguish, authorities said on Thursday.

The children were using matches to set spot fires in brush behind a trailer park near Pocatello, Idaho, on August 15 when high winds drove flames onto public lands in mountainous terrain on the outskirts of the city, investigators said.

The 1,300-acre blaze destroyed a house, outbuildings and acreage on a property valued at $850,000 and caused the evacuation of 44 homes before more than 100 firefighters put it out, Bannock County sheriff's detective Andy Thomas said.

"We get wildfires through here every year and I think the community is used to seeing that. But how this one started was so senseless," he said, putting the cost of the fire at $2.5 million in labor, damage and rehabilitation costs.

Each child is charged with one count of third-degree arson, a charge that for adults could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $50,000.

But juveniles face much lesser penalties, determined based on evaluating past offenses, school records, the prosecutor's recommendation and the discretion of a juvenile court judge.

Thomas said the felony charge facing each boy would underscore for parents how crucial it is to forbid children from playing with matches and combustibles.

"It's important to know what your kids are doing and to talk to them beforehand about the consequences that can come when you play with fire," he said. "It's like a gun. They're not supposed to play with it, but they sometimes they do and the results can be devastating."

The city of 55,000 has shown support for the charges, despite their severity, Thomas said.

"Everybody is extremely sorry for the homeowners. They can't feel bad enough for them," he said.

Bannock County Deputy Prosecutor Ian Service could not be reached for comment, leaving it unclear how much he may be seeking in restitution for property damage and labor costs.

Lightning was behind 33 of 38 blazes in August on public lands in eastern and southeastern Idaho, according to government records.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)