Utah wildfire arsonist sentenced to jail time, probation
Loa • Should Lance Durfey be punished or praised?
The 38-year-old Wayne County man was sentenced Monday to jail time and probation for setting the $3.2 million Lost Lake Fire on Boulder Mountain in June. But that sentence appears to have divided this tiny town in south-central Utah: Some think he's a hero. Others believe he should go to prison.
Durfey was in a bad mood June 3, when he got on his horse, beer in hand. Already upset about marital issues, he encountered fallen timber blocking a trail near Donkey Reservoir, which meant he had to take detours of up to 100 yards. He later confessed to police that he took a lighter and started several fires on the mountain ridge above Teasdale.
The Lost Lake Fire would eventually grow to more than 2,000 acres and take two weeks to extinguish. A handful of homes had to be evacuated, although none was destroyed.
Some residents of Teasdale share Durfey's frustration with what they feel is mismanagement of federal lands and said the fire actually may have done the community some good. A number of them complained the Forest Service has not been clearing the area of dead, fallen trees, prompting the closure of trails they use for recreation and wood-gathering.
"They should give him a medal," Stew Baker saidMonday morning. "I don't support arsonists, but the bottom line is: It did the area more good than bad."
Sixth District Judge Wallace Lee didn't share those sentiments as he imposed Durfey's sentence Monday.
"There's not a thing right about it," Lee said before sentencing Durfey to spend the 180 days in the Sevier County jail, followed by five years of probation. "It doesn't matter about the Forest Service. â¦ What you did was wrong."
Durfey pleaded guilty July 30 to second-degree felony arson. As part of his sentence, Lee told Durfey he has to complete 20 hours of community service each month during his probation with the Forest Service if possible. He ordered the Torrey man to take anger-management and alcohol classes. Lee also stressed that Durfey will not be allowed to touch alcohol during his five-year probation.
"Not one drop, Mr. Durfey," Lee told the man in court. "Not on Christmas. Not on deer hunt. Not on New Year's Eve."
If Durfey fails to complete the jail time and probation, he will spend up to five years in prison, Lee ruled.
The judge scheduled a restitution hearing for Jan. 29. While it is unrealistic to expect Durfey to pay back all the $3.2 million that it cost to fight the fire, Lee said, there should be some court-mandated restitution.
The issue of how Durfey should be punished prompted many community members to write the judge, detailing their feelings about the fire. Some wanted prison time, others advocated community service.
But Durfey said in court Monday that it was reading those letters from his community, many detailing health issues related to smoke from the fire or the stress they felt when they thought they may lose their homes, that finally made him realize the extent of the damage that he had caused.
"There is no way I can 100 percent make up for it," he said. "It's one of the worst things I could have imagined I could have done. It didn't really hit me until I read the letters."
Though Lee described the letters as "angry," Bonnie Mangold, a Teasdale resident who was evacuated during the blaze, said she was simply trying to convey that she wanted justice.
Mangold said she was in a "state of panic" when trying to pack up her home during the June fire. She was disappointed that the case was not tried in federal court and that a representative from the Forest Service, the listed victim in the case, was not present Monday to address the judge. She called Durfey's sentence a "slap on the hand."
Steve Dalton, a Teasdale cattle rancher, said that while he didn't support Durfey's arson, he felt a controlled burn was needed for the dead beetle-infested trees on the mountain above the quaint town. Though he shares Durfey's frustration, he said some punishment should be required.
"There's another way to handle it other than arson," he said. "There needs to be a punishment, so people understand that's not what to do."
Since the blaze, residents say the dirt road that was once littered with fallen trees and uncleared lumber is finally passable, though it's surrounded by hundreds of blackened, dead trees.