State News

Man faces $50 fine for Cumberland wildfire

Posted February 25, 2011 8:58 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2011 10:38 p.m. EST

— 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.

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.