Ariz. judge OKs $3.7M in restitution for wildfire
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Two cousins who accidentally started the largest wildfire in Arizona history will have to pay more than $3.7 million in restitution to those whose homes were destroyed or suffered other losses, a federal judge said Thursday.
Attorneys for David and Caleb Malboeuf said it's unlikely their clients can pay the full amount in their lifetimes. They've asked U.S. Magistrate Mark Aspey to set the monthly payments for Caleb Malboeuf at $500 and $250 for David Malboeuf.
Aspey is expected to issue an order next week outlining the payment schedule that will give priority to those who had no insurance, followed by those who had some out-of-pocket costs and, lastly, the insurance companies themselves. Aspey rejected claims that were submitted after an August cutoff, were not supported by documentation or were unrelated to the fire.
The Malboeufs pleaded guilty to leaving a campfire unattended and failing to clear brush from around it. They served a weekend in jail and were ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and be on supervised probation for five years.
The Wallow Fire burned 840 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico for about a month last summer before it was fully contained. The U.S. Forest Service has agreed not to seek repayment for the $79 million it cost to fight it but could initiate a civil action as could any of the victims.
The Malboeufs' attorneys and prosecutor Patrick Schneider had agreed to about $3 million in claims ahead of Thursday's hearing, which the cousins didn't attend. The attorneys and Aspey then sifted through more than a dozen other claims, not all of which were approved. Among those that were, not everyone got what they were seeking.
The San Carlos Apache Tribe, for example, won't get any of the more than $78,000 it claimed for loss of timber and permit sales. Aspey determined some of those losses were due to flooding and were not fully supported. One woman's claim for more than $15,000 to remove dead and burned trees and other debris got reduced to about $417. One couple withdrew their $7,000 claim after realizing that others needed restitution much more than they did, Schneider said.
The bulk of the restitution money — nearly $3.4 million — will go to insurance companies. The claims for those without insurance totaled more than $332,000, while those who incurred costs above what their insurance covered came out to $4,900.
Defense attorneys said the Malboeufs don't have much but they would pay whatever the court ordered them to. David Malboeuf works for the state prison system but is planning to quit soon to go back to school, his attorney, Stephen Glazer said. Caleb Malboeuf owns a construction business.
"If there's potential for taking care of some of the uninsured losses by his labor, sweat and materials, I think he'll be able to do that," said his attorney, David Derickson.
Schneider said the victims identified in the criminal case aren't clamoring for money and no one expects that they will receive their share overnight.
"They recognize at the end of the day there's no loss of life, and property, as precious as it is, still doesn't trump life," he said.