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Two campers charged in Arizona's Wallow fire

August 24, 2011 |  3:53 pm

Wallow Fire

Two men who authorities said left a campfire unattended were charged Wednesday with causing the largest wildfire in Arizona history, a blaze that charred more than 538,000 acres and destroyed more than 30 homes in Arizona and western New Mexico this summer.

According to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona, David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson and Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson, Ariz., face five misdemeanor charges in connection with the so-called Wallow fire, which began May 29 and continued through July 8.

The men, who are cousins, will make an appearance in federal court in Flagstaff on Sept. 19.

The two were camping in the Bear Wallow area of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest when they left their campfire, which they believed to be extinguished, to go on a hike, the federal complaint said. The fire was then whipped up by high winds and the surrounding forest.

Lucas Woolf, a special agent with the U.S. Forest Service, said in an affidavit that the Malboeufs told him in interviews that they had cooked breakfast over the fire and believed that it was out.

"They stated that they believed their campfire was out because David threw a candy wrapper in the fire just prior to their departure and it did not melt," Woolf said in the affidavit.

The fire, which cost $79 million to fight, destroyed 32 homes, four commercial buildings and 36 outbuildings. It forced hundreds of people to evacuate and burned about 840 square miles of forest.

"This devastating fire destroyed pristine national forest, scenic wilderness, and numerous nearby homes and cabins," U.S. Atty. Dennis K. Burke said in a statement. "Its cost for future generations goes well beyond the resources used to fight it."

Each of the men is charged with five counts of causing timber to burn, leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished, leaving a fire without completely extinguishing it, causing and failing to maintain control of a fire, and building a campfire without removing all flammable material from around the camp.

If convicted, each count carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: The Wallow fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in June. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

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