A Utah couple have been cited for leaving a still-lit campfire that later spread into the surrounding hills — destroying three homes in Bountiful and forcing hundreds to evacuate.
The Forest Service had originally considered filing federal charges against Jeremy Flores and Ashlyn Nelson of Layton. But now each faces a ticket with a potential fine up to $250, said Melodie Rydalch, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah.
“It’s hard because houses burned down,” Rydalch said. “But this is negligence, not something we’d have to make an arson case with.”
Flores and Nelson are accused of leaving their campfire unattended while it still burned late in the night on Aug. 29. The Gun Range Fire sparked just after midnight the next day. More than 400 homes were evacuated while firefighters fought the blaze, which consumed more than 300 acres.
Overall, it burned down three homes and damaged eight others.
Cherilyn Fisher, whose family lost their house, previously told The Salt Lake Tribune that she remembers looking out the window and seeing the hillside on fire. “We thought, ‘Oh, the firemen will get it out.’ We never thought we’d come back to a burnt house,” she said.
Investigators traced the fire to a campfire ring on the side of the mountain in Bountiful. And witnesses pointed to two people who were staying at the site. Fire officials later tracked down Flores and Nelson and said, “They are cooperating.”
The ticket comes through the Central Violations Bureau, a national center that processes citations for petty offenses committed on federal property, including Forest Service land. Rydalch said it’s common in cases like this.
“It’s done a lot on public lands,” she said. “They’re issued a lot.”
The couple will be required to appear in court to answer to the ticket on Oct. 17. Rydalch said there’s still the possibility of filing a civil case, too.
The fire that Flores and Nelson are cited with starting was not illegal — but it is a crime to leave one unextinguished.