By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Two cousins who admitted to accidentally starting the largest wildfire in Arizona history by leaving a smoldering campfire unattended were ordered on Thursday to pay $3.7 million to cover losses from the blaze.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey ruled that Caleb Malboeuf, 27, and David Malboeuf, 25, must pay the restitution for property damage and other losses to 16 victims of the fire, including several insurance companies, prosecutors said.
The blaze charred 840 square miles (2,175 square km) in eastern Arizona and New Mexico last summer, destroying three dozen homes and businesses and forcing as many as 10,000 people to evacuate.
The Malboeufs were sentenced by Aspey in August to two days in jail and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
The pair had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of leaving an unattended fire and failing to remove all flammable material from around a campfire.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider said the multimillion-dollar restitution would probably never be paid in full but sent a message to the two men.
"I think it's important for them to think about what they did and the consequences every month when it comes to writing that restitution check," Schneider told Reuters.
Authorities decided not to pursue the estimated $73 million spent to battle the blaze that roared through prime timberland in the White Mountains, a popular summer retreat for Arizona residents, in May 2011.
Investigators said the Malboeufs set up camp in the Bear Wallow area and left for a hike, wrongly thinking that a fire they had started was extinguished. It quickly jumped the fire ring and was spread 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 intense fire.
The Wallow blaze was one of several large fires that marked one of the worst fire seasons in Arizona history, with tens of thousands of tinder-dry acreage blackened.
(Editing By Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)