Courts • U.S. Forest Service plans different strategy to collect for a 2,000-acre wildfire.
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When Judge Wallace Lee sentenced Lance Durfey to 180 days in jail for starting a large wildfire in June, the judge said he knew the Teasdale man would never be able to repay the $3.2 million it cost to fight the Lost Lake Fire.
But he should have to pay something, he told Durfey at his September sentencing, before setting a restitution hearing for Jan. 29.
However, the U.S. Forest Service has decided not to pursue court-ordered restitution against the 38-year-old man.
According to an Oct. 22 letter addressed to Wayne County Attorney Mark McIff, an attorney for the Forest Service said the agency won't ask for restitution, but intends to "pursue administrative and civil remedies once the criminal case has terminated."
"Because of the amount of damages and the low probability that significant recovery will occur, we have decided not to attempt recovery through restitution in this action," said the letter from USDA Forest Service attorney Elise Foster.
Wayne County Attorney Mark McIff said the Forest Service will likely collect money from Durfey in a different manner, such as from tax returns.
"[The forest service] contacted me and said they were going to go about it in a different way," he said Monday.
Durfey was in a bad mood on June 3, when he got on his horse, beer in hand. Already upset about marital issues, he encountered fallen timber blocking a trail near Donkey Reservoir, causing him to take detours of up to 100 yards. He later confessed to police that he took a lighter and started several fires on the mountain ridge above Teasdale.
When Durfey returned to his truck he encountered a Forest Service ranger who cited him for having expired license plates on his truck. On June 18, two days after the fire was contained, Durfey confessed to starting the fires during a three-hour interview with police.
The Lost Lake Fire would eventually grow to more than 2,000 acres and take two weeks to extinguish. A handful of homes had to be evacuated, although none was destroyed.
Durfey pleaded guilty in July to second-degree felony arson. The restitution hearing scheduled for Tuesday was canceled, according to court records.
The man is still in the Sevier County Jail, and once he is released, he will be on probation for five years. At his September sentencing, Lee ordered Durfey to complete 20 hours of community service each month during his probation, along with taking anger management and alcohol classes. Lee also stressed that Durfey will not be allowed to consume alcohol while on probation.
If Durfey fails to complete the jail time and probation, he will spend up to five years in prison, Lee ruled.