By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Two cousins who admitted to accidentally starting the largest wildfire in Arizona history by leaving a still-smoldering campfire unattended were each sentenced to 48 hours in jail on Wednesday and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
Caleb Malboeuf, 27, and David Malboeuf, 25, were also placed on five years' probation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey in Flagstaff, Arizona, for the raging wildfire that torched 840 square miles (2,178 square km) in eastern Arizona and New Mexico last summer, according to assistant U.S. attorney Patrick Schneider.
The Malboeufs pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor charges of leaving the unattended fire and failing to remove all flammable material from around their campfire in connection with the so-called Wallow Fire in May 2011.
The pair had said they believed the campfire had been put out before leaving the area, situated among prime timberland in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. They could have faced up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The fire charred three dozen homes and business and forced as many as 10,000 people to flee from the land in the picturesque White Mountains, a popular summer retreat for Arizona residents. Authorities said the firefighting effort cost an estimated $83 million before the blaze could be extinguished.
Investigators said the Malboeufs set up camp in the Bear Wallow area and left for a hike, leaving behind a campfire that was still smoldering. It quickly jumped the fire ring after they left, swept along by high winds.
Court records show that the pair attempted to return to the area once they saw smoke, but their efforts were thwarted by the now intense fire. The cousins claimed they thought the campfire has been extinguished before they left, and that a candy wrapper tossed into the fire ring did not melt, documents stated.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)