Wyoming Man's Wildfire Bill is $6.3 Million; Elderly Man Started Blaze by Accident

A Wyoming man's wildfire bill came up to a whopping $6.3 million after he accidentally burned five square miles of forest in September of 2012. James G. Anderson, 77, burned twigs and paper in barrel and left it unattended, and the resulting blaze nearly annihilated his hometown of Jackson.

The Wyoming man got a wildfire bill comprised of various costs: $3.8 million to firefighters from the Forest Service, $1.9 million to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, $64,500 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, $154,000 to the National Park Service and $252,000 the state of Wyoming and Teton County. Anderson's mistake severely damaged 3,200 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest and resulted in the large bill, which was due Dec. 13, according to the Associated Press.

The Horsethief Canyon Fire was started by Anderson Sept. 8, 2012 when he visited his son's home and burned some twigs and paper in a rusty barrel. Later, the elderly man looked outside and saw smoke and realized that the blaze resulted from his negligence.

The fire "was caused by ash and other incendiary materials escaping from a hole in the bottom of the barrel and igniting surrounding fuels," the Jackson Hole News and Guide reported. The fire came so close to 10,000 residents of Jackson that they were warned they may have to evacuate, but firefighters managed to stop the fast-burning forest a few miles away.

Anderson admitted to firefighters that he caused the fire, and was told that he could respond by paying in full, using a payment plan, staying the debt by filing for bankruptcy, disputing the amount or negotiating another lesser payment.

Anderson has hired an attorney, Richard Mulligan, but the lawyer has not commented on the situation. Although the costs are high, there is some chance that the federal agencies, firefighters and municipalities could recoup at least some of their losses.

"When the attempts have been made, it's fairly successful," State Forester Bill Crapser told AP. "The problem is, when you're talking about a $6 million or $9 million fire cost, you're probably going to end up with whatever the insurance policy is on it."

The U.S. government spent $1.9 billion fighting wildfires in 2012, which is the second biggest annual bill ever, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Most wildfires are not caused by human carelessness, but by lightning strikes.

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