In view of the massive loss of acreage and property due to the recent wildfires, I'm curious as to what, if any, additional criminal charges might come into play for violations of a county burn ban? I know normally, this is only a Class "C" offense as is Reckless Damage or Destruction of Real Property. When and under what circumstances does anyone feel that a felony or more serious charge might be appropriate for outdoor burning under these conditions? Arson or something else?
We had a sizeable fire in February started by a fellow who had been evicted from a trailer and, for retributive purposes, was cutting metal off the trailer when the resulting sparks started a fire that destroyed 60-plus houses. We had mandatory evacuations, and some folks got out minutes (and, in a couple of cases, seconds) before the fire destroyed their houses. As was true with the rest of the state, we were (and continue to be) under extraordinary drought conditions. At that time, we also were experiencing 25-35 mph winds, which stoked and drove the fire with truly frightening speed. With all of that in mind, we filed a deadly conduct case. Arson didn't seem to work, as there wasn't any real evidence of the defendant's actual intent to start a fire. Recklessness, on the other hand, was far more proveable. The defendant pled.
Posts: 1233 | Location: Amarillo, Texas, USA | Registered: March 15, 2001
One of our Sergeants has asked if there is anything they can file on persons who toss lit cigarettes out the vehicle's window besides littering given that the tinder dry conditions make it more than likely that fire could result when the cigarette hits the dry grass at the roadside. PC 28.04 (Criminal Mischief-Reckless) is also only a Class C.
Posts: 674 | Location: Austin, Texas, United States | Registered: March 28, 2001
The only possible hang-up is whether or not people were placed in *imminent* danger. I would think that you could solve that at trial by calling your local Fire Chief and asking them how fast a grass fire can move. Flame front speeds of 30mph are not uncommon, especially as a fire moves fuel types from roadside grass to trees in a fence line. The element of "imminent" may require some meteorological and fire science explanation, but I personally would be completely comfortable filing that case.