Stiff penalties possible for starting a fire in Montana

Arson in Montana could get you 20 years in prison
Posted at 11:13 AM, Aug 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-11 13:22:02-04

GALLATIN COUNTY — Starting a fire in Montana can carry a hefty penalty.

For anyone found to be the cause of a fire start, officials say they will investigate to see what the consequences should be.

"It depends on whether or not that fire was purposely set or accidentally, how much damage was caused, and a number of other factors," said Caleb Schreiber, assistant fire management officer of fuels for the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

In the state of Montana, an arson felony carries a penalty of major fines and up to 20 years in prison. Accidental fires that cause significant damage carry a charge of negligent endangerment, and if you escape criminal charges, owners of damaged property can pursue civil litigation against you.

You need to be extra careful at this time of year because the fuels in the grass and even up in the trees are extremely dry. This means one spark can cause a large wildfire.

"ATVs, side by sides, and things like that, make sure they’re perfectly equipped with spark arrestors. Make sure you’re not parking in dense, dry vegetation and things like that," Schreiber said.

Same goes for target practice.

"Make sure you’re shooting in a good location, shooting appropriate things like targets, not garbage or trash or glass bottles." Schrieber said.

Smokey Bear joined Schreiber for the interview, and his fire prevention message is making a difference.

"12 percent decrease in 2018 of the human caused fire and over the last 10 years about a 15 percent decrease in human caused fires." Schrieber said.

Smokey celebrated his 75th birthday on Friday, and his wish is that you also drown your campfire before leaving camp.