Attorneys outline restitution costs in Wallow Fire

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Caleb Malboeuf (left) and David Malboeuf (right) By Catherine Holland Caleb Malboeuf (left) and David Malboeuf (right) By Catherine Holland

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Two cousins who started the largest wildfire in Arizona history could be on the hook for $3.5 million in restitution for property damage and other losses.

Caleb and David Malboeuf are on probation following last month's sentencing on charges of building a campfire without clearing flammable material and leaving it unattended. They were camping in eastern Arizona's Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in May 2011 when their campfire spread outside its rings, sparking the Wallow Fire.

The prosecution and defense agreed on more than $3 million in claims for restitution and say other claims totaling nearly $500,000 do not have enough documentation or are questionable, according to a joint motion filed Friday.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, for example, claimed more than $78,000 for timber and fencing that was destroyed, and for flooding and the loss of permit sales. Information on the specific loss of timber and a written statement on the cost of replacing the fencing would be needed to move the claim forward, according to court documents.

The prosecutor and the Malboeufs' attorneys said they don't believe that losses from flooding could be recovered because they are considered consequential damages. Others outlined losses of cabins and contents, a trailer, and other equipment, and are seeking to be repaid for cleaning up debris.

The Wallow Fire, which burned about 840 square miles in Arizona and parts of western New Mexico before it was contained, cost $79 million to fight. The U.S. Forest Service agreed not to seek repayment through the criminal case but could initiate a civil action.

U.S. Magistrate Mark Aspey in Flagstaff had set Aug. 21 as the cutoff date for claims, after prosecutors reached out to nearly 60 people. Any other claimants would have to show good cause as to why they didn't meet the deadline, he said. The court also precluded claims from two insurance companies.

Figures for two dozen claims were included in Friday's filing. The prosecution previously had estimated property damage at $5 million. The blaze destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins, and at one point, nearly 10,000 people were forced to evacuate.

Aspey can set a payment schedule that takes into consideration the ability of the Malboeufs to pay and any changes to their financial situations in the future. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Schneider has said that the restitution amount likely won't be satisfied in the men's lifetimes but can be prioritized. Those who are on a fixed income or who didn't have insurance likely would be at the top of the list.

A restitution hearing is set for Oct. 15.