2003 Wildfire Near Sedona to Cost Three Phoenix Men Big Bucks in Settlement With Feds; No Liability Admitted

Three Phoenix men must pay $183,000 each in a settlement with the government stemming from a 2003 wildfire near Sedona that burned about 70 acres of forest.

Gary Griffo (pictured), Matthew Warnke, and Brad Cislini don't admit liability in the settlement, which was reached to prevent "protracted litigation." None of the men could be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

The "Round Fire" in the Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness area in the Coconino Forest burned for about three days, according to archived news releases. The fire was human-caused, and news releases about it contain advice to properly extinguish campfires (though the exact cause of the fire isn't stated in the releases or the settlement).

The money is intended, in part, to reimburse the government for the extensive firefighting effort:

Resources: 4 helicopters; 6 Hotshot crews: Flagstaff, Mormon Lake, Los Padres, Pleasant Valley, Stanislaus, Mount Taylor; 2 water tenders from Sedona Fire Department for helicopter dip-sites; Northern Arizona Incident Management Team is managing the fire with base camp set up at Red Rock High School; Approximately 225 personnel, including support staffing, committed to fire.

That's a lot of dough for three average guys to cough up, though. The settlement demands checks payable to the government for the full amount within 10 days and apparently doesn't let them off the hook if they declare bankruptcy.

We don't remember Smokey the Bear (who's celebrating his 65th birthday this year) ever saying squat about half-million-dollar settlements to Uncle Sam.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.