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Two men charged for allegedly starting Dump Fire in Utah County

Published October 18, 2012 5:52 pm

Courts • Charges against men include reckless burning and using prohibited targets.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two men have been charged with allegedly starting the Dump Fire in Saratoga Springs in June.

Idaho resident Kenneth Nielsen, 37, and Jeffrey Conant, 42, of Washington state, were charged in 4th District Court this week with reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, and using prohibited targets, a class B misdemeanor.

The Dump Fire burned 5,507 acres and cost $2.1 million to extinguish.

The two men are accused of target shooting near Saratoga Springs at 11:30 a.m. on June 21, according to court documents. While shooting, the men hit an explosive target that ignited dry weeds. The brush fire spread to burn the mountainside, court documents state.

Fire investigators discovered packaging linked to an explosive target the men used during their shooting session. A fingerprint on the packaging was traced to Nielsen, court documents state.

The blaze forced about 2,500 people to evacuate from nearly 600 homes in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain. It also left the city with a barren hillside that led to massive debris flow and flooding that damaged several homes in early September.

The disaster — and others like it — also spurred Gov. Gary Herbert to order the state forester to work with counties to decide whether to limit target shooting.

The class A misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, and the class B misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $1,000.

Jason Curry, public information officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said Thursday that the case is an example of the dangers of target shooting.

"Target shooting itself can be fun and even shooting exploding targets," he said. But he noted it's not smart to shoot when there are red-flag warnings in the middle of summer.

Curry called the shooting "reckless" and said the decision "was a very poor choice and, as usual, there are consequences."

The duo's initial court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 19.