Bryan Teague Should Get Prison Time and Pay $487K for Mistake Peak Fire, Feds Say

Bryan Teague, who started last year's Mistake Peak Fire by kicking a propane tank into a campfire, should spend 30 days in prison and pay $487,000 in restitution, federal officials say.

The 56-year-old Peoria resident was convicted in May after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts for causing the 5,220-acre fire in the Tonto National Forest east of metro Phoenix.

He's scheduled to be sentenced on Monday at 9 a.m. by U.S. Magistrate Judge Bridget Bade, so check back here that afternoon if you want to know what happened.

See also: - Bryan Teague of Peoria Accused of Starting 5,220-Acre "Mistake Peak Fire" With Propane Tank in Tonto National Forest - Bryan Teague Got Off Easy in 2011 Firearms Case, Started 5,220-Acre Fire in Tonto Forest Months Later

In paperwork filed with the court this week, Vincent Kirby, an Arizona assistant U.S. attorney, argued that Teague's previous criminal history and reckless actions put him in a "completely different category" than people usually charged with this kind of crime. Kirby specifically mentions Steven Craig Shiflet, who started the 18,000-acre Sunflower Fire in 2012 by firing an incendiary shotgun round into dry bushes but received no jail time, and two men who received only a weekend in jail after their abandoned campfire sparked the 841-square-mile Wallow Fire in 2011.

As we've reported, Teague has been thrown behind bars several times over the years for his drunken shenanigans. He served half of 2011 in prison after a Phoenix incident in which he fired a handgun in the direction of two guys who caught him peeing on a car.

Besides Teague's history as a dangerous scofflaw, Kirby pointed out, Teague tried to avoid responsibility several times after starting the fire on August 8. Instead of calling authorities, he used his phone to call his wife "in an attempt to surreptitiously leave the area."

Officials beginning to investigate the blaze that night ran into Teague's wife, Theresa, and her son, who were driving on a dirt road in a red Jeep. A law-enforcement ranger noticed the Jeep slowing on a section of the road, but it sped up when he approached. The ranger shined a spotlight in the brush off the side of the road where the Jeep had slowed down and spotted Bryan Teague, who tried to pretend he was asleep. Teague told various lies about what happened until officials told him during an interview a week later about the evidence they'd found.

Teague then changed his story, admitting he'd "kicked" a 16-ounce propane tank into a campfire, watched the tank explode with a giant fireball that caught trees on fire, and fled the scene.

Bade could sentence Teague to just probation or give him up to six months in prison if she wants to. But the bigger problem for Teague and his family might be a financially devastating restitution order by the judge. The U.S. Forest Service wants Teague to pay back nearly half a million bucks in fire-suppression costs.

In paperwork filed by his federal public defenders, Teague argues that he shouldn't have to pay restitution to the government "for doing its job."

Ironically, he claims "insufficient proof" exists that he should be responsible for all the overtime paid to firefighters battling his wildfire because much of that overtime may have been due to the firefighters' "own actions and response times." In other words, after failing to alert authorities to the fire he caused, he's claiming it's their own fault for taking so long to put it out.

Firefighters didn't have the blaze 100-percent contained until August 27, 2012.

Teague's lawyers note that Shiflet wasn't ordered to pay fire-suppression costs for the Sunflower Fire, and that Teague's actions were just as "accidental." In another section of the motion, his lawyers claim "there is no dispute that the fire was started accidentally..."

We're not so sure. No one but Teague knows whether he put the propane tank in the fire on purpose or not. We asked Teague about that in May, but he wouldn't comment.

Teague would unable to pay the potential restitution amount of $487,000, anyway, records state. He still could be saddled with some kind of perpetual monthly payment, though.

Last November, southern Arizona cousins David and Caleb Malboeuf were ordered to pay $3.7 million in restitution for the 2011 Wallow fire, in monthly installments of $250 and $500 each, respectively. (At that rate, our calculator shows, the debt won't be repaid until the year 2423.)

UPDATE: Monday, September 9 -- We learned today that Teague was sentenced to seven days in jail, with credit for time served. He's supposed to turn himself in on Friday, October 11, to serve the jail time. No word yet on whether he's supposed to pay restitution -- we expect to get that info on Tuesday.

Below: Two more Mistake Peak Fire photos by the U.S. Forest Service:

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.