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Border Patrol agent charged in 45k-acre Sawmill Fire

Seventeen months after admitting he accidentally started the 45,000 acre Sawmill Fire in the Santa Rita Mountains, a U.S. Border Patrol agent has been formally charged with a misdemeanor.

United States Magistrate Judge Leslie Bowman issued a formal summons Tuesday for Dennis Dickey to appear in U.S. District Court on the misdemeanor charge of causing a fire without a permit.

According to court records, Dickey started a fire by shooting a rifle at a target he constructed in the Coronado National Forest on April 23, 2017. He was not on duty at the time.

In support of Dickey’s summons, U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Brent Robinson wrote:

“Inside the target Dickey placed an amount of Tannerite, an explosive substance, intended to detonate when shot by a high-velocity firearm bullet. Dickey fired the shot that exploded the Tannerite target and the resulting explosion caused a fire that spread and resulted in damage to more than 45,000 acres of land, and that explosion was caught on film by a witness.”

Dickey did not have a permit “allowing him to cause timber, trees, slash, brush or grass to burn,” Robinson wrote.

Dickey is expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Tucson Friday. His attorney, Sean Chapman, said he could not comment until after the hearing.

If convicted, Dickey could be placed on probation for up to five years, receive up to six months in jail, and be fined up to $10,000.

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The Border Patrol declined in the early months of the investigation to comment on Dickey’s employment status, citing privacy policies. In June the agency said he was "in full duty status." The agency did not immediately respond to an email enquiring about Dickey’s current status.

The week-long fire began on state land east of Green Valley and went over the Santa Rita Mountains.

Green Valley Fire District Chief Chuck Wunder’s in-laws lost 5,000 acres of ranch land and the fire came within 50 yards of their home and 100 feet of their barn.

At its height, about 800 firefighters were on the scene. Much of the charred acreage was grazing land leased from the U.S. Forest Service, the state and the University of Arizona Experimental Range.

This report was first published by the Green Valley News.

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The Sawmill Fire