A Columbia, Calif., man was indicted for starting a fire last year that was the largest in Sierra Nevada history.
Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, faces four federal charges in connection with the Rim fire, which burned more than a quarter million acres in Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
Federal prosecutors announced the indictments on Thursday.
Emerald is accused of setting a fire in Stanislaus National Forest on Aug. 17, 2013, despite temporary fire restrictions in the area. Emerald is also accused of lying to a federal agent about whether he set the fire.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Emerald had to be rescued by a helicopter from the Clavey River Canyon area about an hour after the fire was first reported. He was carrying a hunting bow and told authorities he was on a solo hunting trip.
“The Rim Fire was one of the largest in California history and caused tremendous economic and environmental harm.” Said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “While those harms cannot be undone, today we have brought criminal charges relating to the cause of that fire. I want to commend the Forest Service agents for their diligent and extensive investigation.”
Smoke from the Rim fire cast a pall over Carson Valley for weeks in August and September, forcing the elderly indoors and canceling recess at Douglas County schools and that year’s last concert in the park among other things.
Emerald is expected to appear soon in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of setting timber afire or false statements to a government agency, Emerald faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. Leaving a fire unattended and violating a fire restriction order each carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.