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2 Charged In Biggest Blaze Ever In Ariz.

PHOENIX, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Two cousins were charged Wednesday with leaving an unattended campfire that ignited the biggest wildfire in Arizona history.

Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson each face five federal counts for allegedly leaving a campfire unattended and building a fire on national forest land without taking necessary precautions, The Arizona Republic reported.

Investigators say the unattended campfire led to the Wallow fire, which started May 29 in Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. Fueled by dry and windy conditions, the blaze burned more than 538,000 acres in northeastern Arizona and destroyed 32 homes, four businesses and more than 30 outbuildings and cost more than $79 million to put out.

A criminal complaint stated the men had been camping near Bear Wallow Trailhead, about 2 miles from where the fire began, and told investigators they had built a fire the morning of May 29 to cook breakfast before hiking.

“They stated that they believed their campfire was out because David threw a candy wrapper in the fire just prior to their departure and it did not melt,” court documents said.

While returning to their campsite several hours later to cut their dogs lose, they could not get close because of fire and smoke, the complaint said.

“Caleb and David both stated that they believe they took every precaution needed to prevent the escape of their campfire and that in no way did they intend to cause the forest fire,” the complaint said.

Each of the offenses in the complaint carries a maximum of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both upon conviction.

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