FRESNO, Calif. — A Tuolumne County man was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on charges that he allegedly started last year’s Rim Fire.
The wildfire burned for more than nine weeks and charred more than 250,000 acres, including large parts of Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park. It was the largest fire in the Sierra Nevada in recorded history, authorities said.
The grand jury returned the four-count indictment against Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of Columbia.
Emerald allegedly started a fire and allowed it to spread beyond his control when temporary restrictions were in place prohibiting fires. He also is charged with lying to a federal agent about whether he started the fire.
According to court documents and a press release by U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Emerald was rescued by helicopter from the remote Clavey River Canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest about an hour after the Rim Fire was first reported to authorities.
Emerald was carrying a bow when rescued and told authorities he was out on a solo hunting trip.
“The impacts of the Rim Fire on our public lands will continue for years to come,” U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore said in a press statement.
“This devastating fire caused risk to firefighters, citizens and private property and over $125 million were spent in fire suppression costs on this beautiful and popular landscape.”
Emerald will be ordered to appear in federal court in Fresno to answer to the charges. If convicted of setting timber afire or making false statements to a government agency he faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count. Leaving a fire unattended and violating a fire restriction order both carry penalties up to six months in prison and $5,000 in fines.