Wayne Allen Huntsman’s Wildfire Selfie Lands Him 20 Years, $60 Million Fine
Wayne Allen Huntsman committed arson in 2014, causing a massive blaze called King Fire that blackened nearly 100,000 acres of land. His reason – to take a selfie. Now, the architect behind the wildfire is pleading guilty to the felony, and faces a harsh sentence.
According to Reuters, Huntsman pleaded guilty on Friday and received a sentence of 20 years along with a $60 million fine. He initially fought the charges, but finally admitted, “I plead guilty because I did it.” He was charged with three counts of felony arson to forest land and causing injury to firefighters along with property damage.
Cal Fire Chief Kal Pimlott released a statement after the ruling according to the agency’s PIO.
“I am pleased this arsonist is taking responsibility for his actions. Investigators spent countless hours working to collect evidence and build the case against him. Arson of any kind is intolerable and we will continue to work tirelessly to investigate and ensure arsonists are convicted.”
District Attorney Vern Pierson released this video onto YouTube, showing Wayne Allen Huntsman’s selfie video between his two fires.
In the video, Huntsman says, “Listen, I got fire all around me. I’m stuck in the middle, babe.”
The attorney described Wayne as trying to portray himself as a hero.
The fire started in Pollack Pines in the forests of Northern California. The wildfire destroyed 12 homes and 68 minor structures according to Cal Fire’s records. There were 12 people injured with no deaths. In the end, it covered an expanse of about 97,000 acres in Eldorado National Forest and took 27 days to bring it fully under control.
Wildfires are a serious problem in California, with or without the help of arsonists like Huntsman.
Summer marks the start of a long dry season in the north where grass turns brown and becomes a tinderbox. In the south, the fall is when the fire season starts according to the Los Angeles Times, with the Santa Ana winds coming in and aggravating an already precarious situation. With the state still in a drought, the danger is even worse.
Wayne Allen Huntsman set his blaze in 2014, which happened to be the worst year for wildfires in California’s recorded history. The California Department of Fire and Forestry responded to 4,974 fires from January that year until September 20th; 1,203 more fires than average. The fires wiped out that year’s budget and forced the state to tap into $70 million worth of emergency funds.
After Huntsman, a construction worker, pays his $60 million to the state, that year’s fire budget will almost be balanced. In the Jan – Sept period in 2014, roughly 275,000 acres were destroyed in fires.
The forests are still recovering. According to the Sacramento Bee, just a day after Wayne Huntsman pleaded guilty, volunteers were working in the Eldorado forest, planting hundreds of new pine seedlings.
Maria Mircheva, executive director of the nonprofit Sugar Pine Foundation, explained, “The recent fires are horrible events, but they present a great restoration opportunity.”
The goal for this weekend was to plant 2,000 trees, but it appears that they’ll stop short. Fewer volunteers showed up than expected, and productivity is lacking. Mircheva explained that many of the people are taking time to learn about the forest, the names of plants, and even dancing and singing songs during the work hours.
“It’s not all about productivity. It’s a spiritual experience, a connection with trees and growth and the forest.”
Rejuvenating a forest like the one burned by Wayne Allen Huntsman would normally take hundreds of years, but the seedlings should help speed things up.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]