State News

Man faces $50 fine for Cumberland wildfire

Posted February 25, 2011

— The North Carolina Forest Service has cited a man who it says caused a 1,150-acre wildfire still burning in eastern Cumberland County.

The Forest Service said that Marshall Hartsfield, of Hope Mills, was cited Thursday for failing to fully extinguish the fire after setting it to clear some land. Hartsfield owns Woodland Management Inc. and is licensed by the state to carry out controlled burns.

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum fine of $50. The Forest Service says its investigation determined that windy and dry conditions allowed embers to escape and ignite brush outside the burn area.

The fire was fully contained by Thursday night, with help from recent rains, firefighters said.

Hartsfield has said there was no red flag warning when he started the fire last week in the Cedar Creek community. After the two-day burn on logged land, he said, he monitored the site for several days to extinguish remaining hot spots.

"When I left it (Monday afternoon), there wasn't any smoke coming up. When I came back around, something had jumped that (fire) line," he said Wednesday.

State officials said they have spent $65,000 fighting the blaze so far, and a judge could order Hartsfield to repay those costs. Hannah Thompson-Welch, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said the agency has no plans to seek restitution.

"You can station people out along the perimeter line, but that's an act of God -- the winds. We can't control that," Thompson-Welch said.

The Forest Service conducted its own controlled burn in Wayne County on the same day that Hartsfield did his, she said.

Cumberland wildfire Man faces $50 fine for Cumberland wildfire

If forestry officials determined that someone started the wildfire on purpose, an arson charge would have been filed, said Brian Haines, a spokesman for the Forest Service.

Sharon Valentine, who owns most of the property that was burned by the wildfire, said she doesn't plan to sue Hartsfield for the damage.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with him burning those two days," Valentine said. "It's enough. I put no blame on Marshall."

She said she would like to see lawmakers impose stiffer fines for unprofessional burners without permits, such as people burning trash in their yards. She said a fine of $10 to $50 isn't enough of a deterrent for carelessness.

By comparison, North Carolina sets a maximum fine of $100 for littering.


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  • fusiformrust Feb 25, 2011 of you to put yourself in the same situation and see how well you handle the pressure.
    As for paying the suppression costs, we as tax payers should pick up this check. The Forest Service has had the same thing happen to them numerous times. Its just one of those things. No one is at fault, it just happens.

    Thank you to the N.C. Forest Service for all that you did. We appreciate it.


  • fusiformrust Feb 25, 2011

    ...burn. The ticket is for this... and I quote, "For starting a fire in grassland, brushland or woodland without fully extinguishing the same. That is all well and good. But no one, including the N.C. Forest Service ever fully extinguishes a prescribed burn. The common and accepted practice is to secure the firelines and edges and wait for rain to put out the remaining embers. This week, when the Forest Service burned the remaining tree litter, do you think they got out of their trucks or dozers and physically put out every bit of smoke? No, they didn't and I don't blame them. It is time consuming and very tiring. I believe that the bad press and anxiety that Marshall has experienced because of this is vastly greater than any fine he could get. The fact that Marshall fought so hard to minimize the damage and came forth and accepted responsibility should count for something. It was not a malicious act or a careless mistake. Forces beyond his control caused this. I dare any...

  • fusiformrust Feb 25, 2011

    ...stop the blaze. He immediately contacted the N.C. Forest Service and assisted them with containing the fire. He didn't even go home that night! He slept very little, if any and did not go get anything to eat. It wasn't until Tuesday night at 8:30pm that we were comfortable with the containment of the fire and Marshall was willing to rest. He did not sleep in the next day, but was back on the tract around 7:30am. We have not done any other work that did not involve mopping up our prescribed burn since the wildfire was contained. Negligence has no place in this situation. Marshall was nothing but careful. Sharon Valentine is not to blame. Marshall and his company have already burned (intentionally) 150 acres of her property already this year. He burned 300 acres of her property (intentionally) two years ago. There was no wildfire, there was no damage. In fact, most of the "charred land" as the media calls it, has little or no tree mortality. And was really a beneficial ..

  • fusiformrust Feb 25, 2011

    You all are not going to like what I have to say. No one was at fault. Not Marshall Hartsfield, not Sharon Valentine, not the N.C. Forest Service, nobody. The prescribed burn in question was not conducted on a Monday at all. It was the Tuesday before the wildfire happened. I know because I work for Marshall Hartsfield. We had perfect weather for the burn on Tuesday. After the burn, we did what we always do. Secure the edge "20 feet" inside the fire lines. We had a bull-dozer on site and used it to put out or move burning materials away from the edge. Since we did not receive the rain that was forecast, we continued to go back to the tract and monitor and extinguish the still-burning wood and organic matter. Marshall even skipped out on a rabbit hunting trip on Saturday to go back out and keep an eye on the situation. He was there on Monday, putting out the smoking embers and when he noticed that the wind spread fire to Valentine's land, he did everything in his power to...

  • oldrebel Feb 25, 2011

    My hat is off to Ms. Valentine for not trying to make a bad situation worse.

  • nccrew Feb 25, 2011

    Guys, get off Hartsfields back! Crud happens, especially if you work in a hazardous occupation. The guy was trying to manage land in a fire dependent ecosystem and do a job. Things go wrong, furthermore it sounds like he took the appropriate action before, during, and post ignition.
    From a fire ecology standpoint, and a blame game standpoint Ms. Valentine is just as culpable. She allowed fuels to apparently build up to a hazardous and uncontrollable level on her property. She failed to reduce those hazards and it doesn't seem like she had any fire breaks on her land either. I could be wrong, and if I am I’ll retract my statements.
    This is a rather silly example, but would you allow your neighbor to dig a shallow hole and fill his backyard with gasoline and not assign blame to him for blowing your neighborhood up when a stray cigarette hits his backyard? I think not – and just what do you think 1000 acres of pine straw, on an un-thinned forest, in warm, dry, windy conditions is like

  • Leftwing Feb 25, 2011

    Clearly why those in other states think we are all backwards here. Make the guy pay.

  • slayerhil Feb 25, 2011

    That is ridiculous.

  • 426X3 Feb 25, 2011

    Charge this guy the cost of the fire.

  • LIVEITUP Feb 25, 2011

    So, that's the going rate for stupidity...