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Tucson, Benson pair charged with causing Wallow Fire
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Tucson, Benson pair charged with causing Wallow Fire

  • Fighting the Wallow Fire by lighting a back burn, June 8.
    U.S. Forest ServiceFighting the Wallow Fire by lighting a back burn, June 8.

Two Southern Arizona cousins have been charged in connection with the half-million acre Wallow Fire in May.

Caleb and David Malboeu are accused of leaving a campfire unattended while hiking, causing the wildfire that burned for weeks in Arizona's mountains, said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of  Benson, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson, are charged with five counts: 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 Campfire Adequate to Prevent its Escape, said Sandy Raynor in a press release.

The two are scheduled to make an initial appearance in a Flagstaff federal court Sept. 19.

"The fire, fueled by dry and windy conditions, destroyed 32 residential structures, four commercial structures and 36 outbuildings and cost over $79 million to fight," Raynor said.

"Our national forests are among our most precious resources and we all have a responsibility to care for them when we visit," U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said in the release. his devastating fire destroyed pristine national forest, scenic wilderness, and numerous nearby homes and cabins. Its cost for future generations goes well beyond the resources used to fight it."

"Investigation into the source and origin of the Wallow Fire indicated that the fire started when an unattended and unextinguished campfire in the Bear Wallow area spread out of its fire ring and quickly spread in high winds after Caleb and David Malboeuf had gone on a hike. Upon noticing smoke from the direction of their campsite, the cousins attempted to get back to their campsite where they had left their gear. As they got closer, the smoke and flames became too intense, and they were forced to retreat," Raynor said.

The Malboeufs began a camping trip near the Bear Wallow Trailhead on May 28, according to the indictment written by Forest Service investigator Lucas Woolf:

They hiked down into the wilderness and set up camp just below the confluence ofthe North and South Forks of Bear Wallow Creek, which is in Greenlee County. They stated that they built a campfire in a campfire ring that evening and cooked dinner over the fire. The Malboeufs stated that they let the fire go out on its own that evening and took no action to extinguish it. The next morning, May 29, 2011, at around 8:00 AM they built another fire in the same campfire ring and cooked breakfast over the fire. They then stayed in camp until 11 :00 AM or noon before leaving camp to go down canyon for a hike. 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. When asked by your affiant how they extinguished their fire prior to leaving camp, Caleb stated that because they were in camp for three to four hours after cooking over the fire, the fire had burned out on its own. The Malboeufs then stated that they left camp and hiked down canyon for approximately one to two miles. During their trip back up canyon to their camp they could smell and see smoke coming from the proximity of their camp. When they were a few hundred yards from their camp they saw that a fire was burning on both sides of the drainage and up canyon from their camp. They tried to return to camp to cut their dogs loose, which they had left tied up in camp, but could not get close because of the fire and smoke. They then decided to run from the area and head down canyon towards the Black River, where they remained overnight. The next morning they hiked up river to Wildcat Crossing (intersection of Forest Road 25 and the Black River) and received a ride from an Apache County Deputy back to their vehicle, which was parked at the Bear Wallow Trailhead.

***

On July 16, 2011 your affiant conducted a non-custodial interview of David Malboeuf, at his residence in Tucson, AZ, regarding the Wallow Fire. David continued to be cooperative, forthcoming, and consistent with his account ofhis camping trip with Caleb Malboeuf into the Bear Wallow Wilderness beginning on May 28, 2011. In addition to David's earlier account (see paragraph 5) of his trip into the Bear Wallow Wilderness, David stated that he and Caleb built a cooking fire in an established campfire ring in their camp for the purpose of cooking dinner. David said that they did not remove any flammable material away from this campfire ring before building their fire and that the campfire ring only contained old ashes. David also reiterated that they took no action to extinguish their campfire that night and allowed the fire to go out on its own. David then stated that on Sunday morning, around 08:00 AM, he built another cooking fire within the same campfire ring for the purpose of cooking breakfast. Once again, David stated that he and Caleb stayed in camp until around noon before leaving camp for a hike. Prior to leaving, he threw a "Gummie Bear" wrapper on the fire and noticed that the wrapper did not melt, thus making him believe that the fire was out and no longer contained any heat. David said that because of this assumption they did not take any action to extinguish their fire prior to their departure. David also mentioned that he was surprised by how fast the wood they used in their campfire burned up, thus reassuring him that their campfire was out and that the wood was totally consumed. 

***

On July 23, 2011 your affiant conducted a non-custodial interview of Caleb Malboeuf, near his residence in Benson, AZ, regarding the Wallow Fire. Caleb also continued to be cooperative, forthcoming, and consistent with his account of his camping and hiking trip with David Malboeuf into the Bear Wallow Wilderness beginning on May 28, 2011. In addition to Caleb's earlier account (see paragraph 5) of their camping and hiking trip into the Bear Wallow Wilderness Caleb stated that he remembers them camping in a well used campsite. It consisted ofa flat area adjacent to Bear Wallow Creek, and contained an existing rock campfire ring. Caleb pointed out to your affiant, on an Apache National Forest map, where he believed their camp was located. He indicated their camp to be in Township 3N, Range 28E, Section 16,just below the confluence of the North and South Forks ofBear Wallow Creek. Caleb went on to say that the campfire ring is where he and David built their cooking fires on both Saturday and Sunday. He indicated that they did not need to clear any flammable material away from the campfire ring because it was a well used campsite and no brush was near the ring. Caleb said that David started the fire on Sunday morning for the purpose of cooking breakfast and not for recreational use. Consequently, it was a relatively small fire. Caleb again stated that they took no action to extinguish their campfires on Saturday and Sunday because they had attended the fires long enough that they felt confident that the fires went out on their own. Caleb again mentioned David throwing a wrapper on the fire prior to their departure from camp on Sunday, and said that the wrapper did not "shrivel" or melt which indicated to Caleb that the fire was out and contained no heat. Caleb went on to mention that the weather conditions were "windy all day," but that he was not concerned about their fire escaping because he believed it was out and that there were no hot coals available to blowout of the campfire ring. Caleb also said that they had not taken a shovel or bucket with them into the wilderness, and had not used water or dirt to extinguish the cooking fires. Both Caleb and David Malboeuf stated to your affiant that they are experienced campers and are very familiar with the Apache National Forest, frequenting the forest for years. Caleb and David both stated that they believe they took every precaution needed to prevent the escape of their campfire and that in no way did they intend to cause a forest fire.

A conviction for each of the offenses charged in the complaint carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

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