16-yr old pleads guilty - picture of one of the 2018 fires

Pictured is damage caused by one of three fires started by 16 year-old male from Glendale. The juvenile pleaded guilty to starting the fires near Forest Lakes in 2018.

FOREST LAKES — A 16-year-old boy from Glendale has pleaded guilty to starting three small forest fires last year on the Black Mesa Ranger District of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests outside of Forest Lakes, according to a joint press release issued June 19 by the Forest Service and Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.

All three forest fires occurred in late May 2018 in the areas of Forest Road 178.

USFS Law enforcement badge

The fires were named the Smith Fire at .02 acre, the Juniper Fire at .25 acre and the Wildcat Fire at 11.10 acres according to a June 25 email to the Independent from the Black Mesa Ranger District. In total, the three fires burned almost 12 acres.

The Wildcat Fire was the largest of the three fires and was started May 27. The second fire was started May 28. The third fire was reported while fire crews were fighting the second fire.

“The Smith and Juniper fires were small because firefighting resources were already on the scene of the Wildcat Fire when they were discovered a short distance away,” stated a Forest Service press release.

Forest Service fire crews and Forest Lakes Fire Department responded to all three fires, conducting containment and suppression operations.

USFS Law Enforcement investigation

“The resident USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement officer in Forest Lakes conducted the investigation and found evidence all three fires were human caused,” according to the release. “The suspect was identified as 16-year-old male who had been with several family members camping in the area.”

“The suspect had been with several family members camping in the area. The suspect made statements that he had piled sticks or branches and lit them on fire for his cousins. The suspect said he was fascinated with fire and enjoyed watching the colors, but also acknowledged he knew the destructive potential of fire,” says the press release.

The suspect was initially detained, arrested and later released to his parents on three federal counts of causing timber, trees and grass to burn. The United States Attorney’s later referred the case to the Coconino County Attorney’s Office due to the age of the juvenile suspect.

The charges

The juvenile was charged with three counts of reckless burning under Arizona State Law and pleaded guilty to one count, the other two counts were dismissed. He was also ordered to pay $75,000 in restitution for the cost of fire suppression.

“The court found the minor guilty of the infraction, and the restitution penalty is for the minor,” also states the Black Mesa Ranger District. “It is beyond our scope to know if the parents are responsible for restitution.”

“The successful investigation and case prosecution by the Forest Service and Coconino County is a testament to the collaborative relationship when federal and local agencies work together,” summarized the press release. “The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office supports the Forest Service in the protection of our natural resources through this partnership by patrolling forested areas, camp grounds, fire detection and suppression activities.”

“Parents should teach children to respect other people’s property and lives,” urges the Black Mesa Ranger District. “Had these fires been started one day later, high winds could have driven the fires quickly towards hundreds of campers to the north celebrating the Memorial Day weekend, which could have resulted in injury, death, or loss of property.”

Reach the reporter at lsingleton@wmicentral.com

Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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