Associated Press Writer
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A woman who admitted she started the worst
fire on record in the Sequoia National Forest when she lit a camp
fire was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison.
Peri Dare Van Brunt, 46, wept as U.S. District Judge Robert
Coyle confirmed the sentence she had agreed to in a deal with
The guilty plea to three misdemeanor charges included
restitution, which Coyle said he would address later.
The U.S. Forest Service is seeking $148 million for the cost of
fighting the 150,000-acre fire, forest restoration and other losses
such as hunting licenses and food, hotel and gas revenues.
Prosecutors said private landowners are also asking for
restitution, which is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of
The four-month fire also destroyed three homes, a lodge and four
commercial buildings, and endangered groves of sequoias, some of
the world's largest trees.
Van Brunt, of Bakersfield, admitted lighting a camp fire without
a permit on July 21, 2002, so she could cook hot dogs.
Van Brunt, who has a record of drug convictions, was jailed in
April after violating terms of her release on bail by testing
positive for drugs.
She has apologized for igniting the fire.
"The sequoias have been a major part of my life since I was 2
years old, and I would never intentionally destroy them," Van
Brunt wrote in a letter to the judge. "Some of the happiest
memories I have are of camping in those mountains. Now those
memories are clouded by horror, guilt and shame."
Also, a woman who started part of the largest wildfire in
Arizona history asked a tribal judge to dismiss a civil case filed
by an American Indian tribe that suffered huge losses in the blaze.
A lawyer for Valinda Jo Elliott said Monday that the White
Mountain Apache Tribe can't pursue its civil complaint against her
because it doesn't have jurisdiction over her. The law generally
prohibits tribes from filing civil cases in tribal court against
people who aren't American Indians, said attorney Kevin O'Grady.
David Osterfeld, an attorney for the tribe, didn't immediately
return a phone call Monday seeking comment.