Colorado’s Hewlett Gulch Fire, subject of a previous PT post, has grown to 7,600 acres and is about 45% contained this evening. Several evacuation orders have been lifted and several other areas remain on evacuation standby, but so far there have been no injuries and no homes destroyed.
What would be a fair penalty for the 56-year-old camper who has admitted accidentally starting the fire when his small alcohol camp stove blew over? He tried briefly to stomp out the spreading flames before fleeing. There was no cell phone service available in the area.
Federal authorities have cited the man, James J. Weber, for “causing timber to burn without a permit,” according to the Denver Post. He faces up to $325 in fines and fees, and the federal government will seek restitution for its firefighting expenses, already more than $1.2 million.
What constitutes a just penalty or punishment in a case like this? $325 is a pittance compared to the size of the fire. But over $1 million in restitution? From an employee of Colorado State University’s health network? You can bankrupt him and force him to live the rest of his life in poverty, but he’ll never be able to pay that much. The fire was an accident, after all, and Weber did turn himself in. Should that mitigate the punishment?
What do you think? How would you penalize or punish Weber if it were your call?