Arizona Wildfire Starter Bryan Teague Sentenced to One Week in Prison
Peoria resident Bryan Teague has been sentenced to a week in federal prison and two years' supervised probation for starting the August 2012 Mistake Peak Fire in the Tonto National Forest.
Image: U.S. Forest Service Wildfire crew mops up a fireline from last year's Mistake Peak Fire.
Still uncertain is whether he'll have to pay nearly half a million dollars in firefighting costs.
A hearing has been set for December 9 to determine whether Teague, 56, should pay restitution for the Mistake Peak Fire in the Tonto National Forest. The U.S. Forest Services wants him to pay $487,000, court records show.
Mistake Peak was a relatively small fire by Arizona standards, consuming an estimated 5,220 acres over about three weeks before firefighters tamed it. But the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office had pressed for prison time because of Teague's recklessness and apparent attempts at avoiding responsibility.
After lying at first to investigators, Teague eventually confessed to starting the fire on August 8, 2012, saying he'd kicked a 16-ounce propane tank into a campfire. The tank whistled, then exploded with a fireball he described during his interrogation as "bigger than my wingspan." Bushes began burning, followed by a large tree. Teague beat it out of there without calling authorities. Later that night, rangers found him in the woods, pretending to be asleep after apparently having tried to catch a ride with his wife and son.
The mini-disaster was the greatest of a series of reckless acts by Teague over the last 15-or-so years, most of which were due to his alcohol abuse. Besides several DUIs, including one that landed him in prison for a short time, the family man with a love of the outdoors has also been busted for assault and served time in 2011 for firing a handgun after two guys saw him urinating on a car near 29th Avenue and Indian School Road.
Teague pleaded guilty on May 14 to two misdemeanor counts related to the wildfire -- one for carelessly or negligently throwing or placing an ignited substance or any other substance that might cause a fire, and another for burning brush and trees without a permit. A third misdemeanor charge was dismissed.
Federal prosecutors argued in a court filing that Teague should get at 30 days behind bars, but U.S. District Court Judge Bridget Bade decided on September 9 that Teague would learn his lesson with less prison time.
Besides the week in prison, which he's to begin after surrendering himself to the marshal's office on October 11, the judge ordered a two-year term of supervised probation that forces him to obtain mental-health treatment and prohibits him from using booze or entering a national forest in Arizona unless for volunteer duty.
Teague's scheduled to appear before Bade again for the December 9 restitution hearing. Her decision will be based in part on Teague's income. Last November, two Arizona cousins whose abandoned campfire caused the Wallow Fire were ordered to fork over $3.7 million in perpetual monthly installments.