In California, a homeless man was ordered to pay $101 million for setting fires that burned down 160,000 acres of national forest. The court also sentenced him to four years of prison.
We’ve got a similar case in Minnesota, where authorities have charged a man with leaving a fire unattended that soon turned into the 75,000-acre Ham Lake fire in 2007.
That fire — Minnesota’s most destructive fire in 80 years — cost $11 million to control and burned 150 buildings.
Although the cases differ in terms of intent — the California man committed arson whereas the Minnesota fire was caused by carelessness — one could expect that, if convicted, the alleged Ham Like fire starter will be asked to pay for it.
So how does the state collect millions of dollars in restitution? The kicker, courtesy of Slate: It doesn’t.
Instead, he’s expected to pay a tiny bit every month until he dies. The man, Steven Emory Butcher, currently receives $1,000 a month in Supplemental Security Income, which is basically welfare for the elderly, disabled, or blind. The federal court ordered that Butcher would pay $25 to Los Padres National Forest four times a year while in prison, and then $50 a month once he’s released. No one expects him to deliver the entire $101 million–even a spokesman for the prosecutor acknowledged that the odds of Butcher paying it off were “extremely slim”–but they do expect him to pay what he can.
Full protection from forest fires, that is, when the forest grows back.
(Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Incident Command System)