Expensive campfires

Ham Lake fireIn 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.

Slate asks: “How’s a guy who sleeps in a tent supposed to pay $101 million?

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.

The good news for Ham Lake residents though, is that they’ll have full protection from forest fires thanks to a $3 million grant from FEMA to install external sprinkler systems.

Full protection from forest fires, that is, when the forest grows back.

(Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Incident Command System)

  • c

    did the man from california admit to starting the fire and if so why did he do it? the article says nothing about that. there is missing information. this article is incomplete.

  • complete idiot

    well, the article does say he committed arson, and goes on to say “if convicted”. so my guess is hes probably going to be facing a trial, and im guessing again hes not likely to admit guilt about anything before a trial just so you’re happy. again as to why he did it… how do you expect anyone but him to answer that?

    i will agree that this article is incomplete though… no mention of what either of these men was wearing.. or what their favourite tipple is either… tsk tsk tsk.. what a disgrace