County passes wildfire case to federal prosecutors
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
February 9, 2013
A Clarification of this story appears at its end — Ed.
Federal authorities are “actively pursing” charges against a Teton County homeowner for allegedly starting the Horsethief Canyon wildfire last fall, the Teton County prosecutor said Friday.
Teton County will not file any charges of its own against James Anderson III, prosecutor Steve Weichman said. Instead, federal authorities will handle the case.
“They have the jurisdiction to best pursue the remedies that Teton County is invested in,” Weichman said. “They are actively pursuing this case and those remedies.”
As of Friday afternoon, the U.S. Attorney’s office had not yet officially filed charges, according to an online court records database.
During the five months since the Horsethief Canyon wildfire broke out, Anderson has cooperated with authorities. That cooperation included attempts to tap a homeowner’s insurance policy in Arizona to help Teton County pay for the cost of fighting the fire, Weichman said.
The fire, which broke out just before 3 p.m. Sept. 8, appeared to start from Anderson’s backyard in the Little Horsethief subdivision off Highway 89.
The blaze quickly spread to the mouth of Wilson Canyon, which is almost directly behind the Anderson home. It eventually encompassed about 3,373 acres on the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
By Sept. 18, 10 days later, the fire was largely contained.
At its peak, the suppression effort included 650 people, nine helicopters, 40 engines and three bulldozers. The price tag for those efforts came to about $9 million.
Teton County agreed to pay up to $3 million of that cost. If the state’s fire fund is able to cover that amount, the county must still pay a $12,000 fee.
Getting financial restitution from Anderson was a major reason federal authorities decided to pursue the case, Weichman said.
Scorched land in the Little Horse-thief Canyon subdivision left behind by the blaze came up to the back door of one of the two buildings on Anderson’s property.
Three days after the fire, the Anderson family released a statement requesting privacy.
James Anderson “remains extremely distraught about the ignition of the Little Horsethief fire and the effect it has had on friends, families, and community members that he has lived with, and been close to, for so many years,” the statement said. “He continues to work with the authorities in conducting the investigation as to the source of the fire and the reasons for its magnitude and breadth.”
A story in the Feb. 9/10 Jackson Hole Daily may have left the impression that James “Jay” Anderson III is under investigation for starting the Horsethief Canyon wildfire. Teton County’s investigation into the cause of the fire focused on his father, James Anderson Jr. According to his family, Jay Anderson was out of the town the day the fire started.