A federal firefighter in Idaho is facing arson charges linked to least one blaze in an act that may have been motivated by a desire to produce some firefighting work, officials said on Friday.
Levy Miller, 21, is in Lemhi County Jail charged with starting an August 13 blaze on the outskirts of Salmon, an area of thick forests and natural beauty, officials said. The half-acre blaze was snuffed out quickly by fire crews.
Lemhi County Sheriff Sam Slavin said Miller, who has worked as a firefighter with the federal Bureau of Land Management for two years, persuaded a Salmon teen to start the August 13 fire "to drum up business."
Miller is also a suspect in a series of 2003 fires that broke out in the Salmon-Challis National Forest near the Idaho-Montana border. "We're looking potentially at a lot of dollars in damages," Slavin said.
News of Miller's arrest comes at the height of the American West's wildfire season, with large tracts of Idaho, Montana and Washington state aflame amid worsening conditions.
There is a growing list of firefighters accused of arson in the treasured natural areas they were paid to protect.
A federal judge last month sentenced former U.S. Forest Service firefighter Craig Underwood to four months in prison after he pleaded guilty to starting three fires -- costing $2.5 million (1.3 million pounds) to extinguish -- in the Los Padres National Forest in California in 2004.
Fire managers say an age-old irony associated with wildfires in the West is that the blazes pump millions into moribund local economies in the form of jobs, federal firefighting dollars and the purchase of products and services by fire personnel.
Terry Edwards, deputy state fire marshal in Idaho, said "an excuse to get a paycheck" was often cited by firefighters as the reason they set blazes.