A man got lost in a national park and lit a fire to save himself: now he must pay a $300 fine
Lost on a long hike through Arizona, Philip Powers III ran out of water and food. TThe phone ran out of battery, he was suffering from convulsions. As he later admitted to officials, he thought he would die. Writes about it The Washington Post.
According to a law enforcement official, Powers started three fires to signal for help. The rising smoke soon led to the rescue of the 37-year-old man by the US Forest Service. However, officials say he acted recklessly.
Powers soon faced seven fire-related charges, one of which escalated into a wildfire in May 2018. Last week, US Magistrate Camilla Beebles ordered him to pay nearly $300 in damages in monthly installments of $000, a payment plan that would take him about 200 years to complete.
Powers' lawyer has filed a motion to start an appeals process. In past hearings, the plaintiff and his lawyers have justified the fires as necessary for their client's survival.
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One of Powers' lawyers, Sarah Ehrlinder, said there was no evidence that her client deliberately allowed the fire to spread or that he had the ability to stop the fire.
Beebles assured that Powers's actions were due only to his poor preparation for the campaign.
“Acquisition of necessity is not possible unless the defendant can show that he or she did not recklessly or negligently place himself or herself in circumstances in which he or she would likely be compelled to commit the crime,” Beebles said.
On May 27, 2018, Powers began what he believed was to be a 17,8-mile (28,6 km) hike through Arizona's Prescott and Coconino National Forests. Near the end of the journey, he got lost.
Powers couldn't find the original path and was running out of water. That night, he found coconut oil, peanut butter, and jam to eat in a primitive cabin. Powers, he said, drank his own urine to conserve the little water he had. He tried to make calls and use his cell phone for navigation, US Forest Service officer Michael O'Neill wrote, but his phone's battery died before he could find cell coverage.
The lost man started the fire with a Bic lighter, but no one came after he waited for about an hour.
The next morning, Powers could barely walk, he was falling, choking, his legs were cramping. Powers found a high ground where he started two fires. He would later tell O'Neill to burn dry branches and set the bush on fire in the hope that the tree would catch fire and produce more smoke. Firefighters spotted the smoke and rescued him.
Powers confessed to starting the fires. He was diagnosed with heat exhaustion, acute kidney failure and dehydration.
Meanwhile, one of the fires he started spread to about 230 acres (93 ha) of forest. He managed to localize only a week later. The US Forest Service spent over $500 fighting the fire.
According to the affidavit, forest fire restrictions were put in place in those days due to dry conditions. Powers did not take precautions to limit the spread of the fire and did not put it out after he was rescued, the affidavit says.
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Powers wasn't ready to go, O'Neill observed. According to court documents, he didn't have enough water - about 116 ounces - and didn't have a flashlight, a second navigation device or anything to signal for help.
Powers' seven charges included illegally building fires and leaving a fire unattended.
"Powers' actions were negligent," O'Neill wrote in an affidavit, "especially the way he started the fires and how unprepared he was for his 'day hike' in the high desert during Stage 2 fire restrictions."
On February 14, the Beebles awarded Powers $293 in damages and a special fee of $413,71. In addition, she sentenced him to a year of probation.
Three days later, the defendant's lawyer filed an appeal.
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