Bryan Teague of Peoria pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts related to the 5,220-acre wildfire he caused last August in the Tonto National Forest by putting a propane tank in a campfire.
Teague, 56, faces the possibility of up to six months in prison, a $5,000 fine, and five years of probation on each of the two misdemeanor counts, according to the plea agreement read in court by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bridget Bade.
Still unclear is whether he kicked the 16-ounce can into the fire with the intention of watching it explode, which it did, or whether he kicked it in by accident and failed to get it out in time.
Either way, the facts of the case show Teague did not man up when the forest began burning because of his actions at about 6 p.m. He was found skulking about 1:30 a.m. in some bushes, having called only his wife for help.
Teague declined to answer any questions from New Times before or after his court appearance.
Read our previous stories (links above) for full details of the incident, which happened in a remote part of the Tonto while Teague was on an off-roading trip with his family.
An alcoholic, Teague has been in out of prison several times for DUIs and other booze-related crimes since 2000, records show. His last trip of about six months in the hoosegow came after he recklessly fired his gun -- which he wasn't allowed to possess legally -- in the direction of a couple of guys standing near a nightclub entrance.
Teague will be sentenced on July 22 for the two misdemeanor counts of "negligently throwing or placing" a substance that might cause a fire, and for starting a wildfire without a permit.
Teague is also on the hook for restitution for the firefighting costs, which haven't yet been determined and could be significant.
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Firefighters battled the Mistake Peak Fire, as it was named, for about three weeks before bringing it under control.
Paige Rockett, spokeswoman for the Tonto National Forest, says the 5,220-acre fire was a small one, relatively speaking, in the desert and forestland of 3 million of acres. But it's an example of what she called the "cost of carelessness."
The Tonto had several human-caused fires last year, including the Sunflower Fire, which burned about 20,000 acres and began after Steven Shiflet of Mesa shot an incendiary round from his gun into some bushes while partying in the desert. He was sentenced last month to probation.
Rockett says at least eight fires have started in the Tonto from firearms in the past six weeks, and that the feds will likely ban target shooting in the national forest as part of its overall fire-prevention efforts, as they've done in recent years. (Other fire restrictions included bans on campfires, smoking outside of vehicles, etc.)