August 25, 2006

Firefighter faces arson charges in Idaho wildfire

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A federal firefighter in Idaho is
facing arson charges linked to least one blaze in an act that
may have been motivated by a desire to produce some
firefighting work, officials said on Friday.

Levy Miller, 21, is in Lemhi County Jail charged with
starting an August 13 blaze on the outskirts of Salmon, an area
of thick forests and natural beauty, officials said. The
half-acre blaze was snuffed out quickly by fire crews.

Lemhi County Sheriff Sam Slavin said Miller, who has worked
as a firefighter with the federal Bureau of Land Management for
two years, persuaded a Salmon teen to start the August 13 fire
"to drum up business."

Miller is also a suspect in a series of 2003 fires that
broke out in the Salmon-Challis National Forest near the
Idaho-Montana border. "We're looking potentially at a lot of
dollars in damages," Slavin said.

News of Miller's arrest comes at the height of the American
West's wildfire season, with large tracts of Idaho, Montana and
Washington state aflame amid worsening conditions.

There is a growing list of firefighters accused of arson in
the treasured natural areas they were paid to protect.

A federal judge last month sentenced former U.S. Forest
Service firefighter Craig Underwood to four months in prison
after he pleaded guilty to starting three fires -- costing $2.5
million to extinguish -- in the Los Padres National Forest in
California in 2004.

Fire managers say an age-old irony associated with
wildfires in the West is that the blazes pump millions into
moribund local economies in the form of jobs, federal
firefighting dollars and the purchase of products and services
by fire personnel.

Terry Edwards, deputy state fire marshal in Idaho, said "an
excuse to get a paycheck" was often cited by firefighters as
the reason they set blazes.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman)