The Williamsburg woman convicted of starting a brush fire that spread into the Daniel Boone National Forest in March won’t go to jail, and won’t have to pay a fine, but a federal magistrate judge has ordered her to pay more than $6,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for their efforts to extinguish the blaze.
Dessie M. Vanover was found guilty of allowing a fire to escape control resulting in a wildfire following a bench trial in U.S. District Court in London on August 27.
Vanover returned to court Tuesday for a sentencing hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram.
The parties agreed that neither jail time nor a fine was warranted as the fire was not intentionally set.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Rabold and Vanover’s attorney, James Wren, II, disagreed as to the amount of restitution required.
Rabold asked the court to order Vanover to pay $6,034.76, presenting evidence that it covered the costs of the firefighters, helicopter and flight crew called out to battle the blaze that consumed 14 acres of forest on March 30.
Rabold reiterated that the fire spread from Vanover’s fire pit where she had been burning garbage despite the ban on outdoor burning that was in effect at the time.
“The sentence must reflect the seriousness of the crime and promote respect for the law, especially with forest fires,” Rabold said.
In addition to reimbursing the forest service, Rabold told the court that ordering the restitution would serve as a deterrent to other individuals.
“The fact that the United States prosecutes these cases is a major deterrence,” Rabold said.
Wren argued for a reduction in the amount of restitution noting that Vanover, had exercised due caution in monitoring the burning garbage.
There had been two downpours of rain that day and Vanover had stirred the fire to ensure it was extinguished.
“It was out until 1:30 the next day,” Wren said of the fire.
Wren added that of the 14 acres burned in the fire, nine acres belonged to Vanover.
In issuing his ruling, Ingram said the question was not who owned the property but the time and resources used by the U.S. Forest Service as a result of Vanover’s actions.
As a result, Ingram ordered Vanover to pay the full amount
Vanover took the stand during the hearing, telling the court that while she did live with her boyfriend, family care circumstances prevented him from working at the time, limiting their income.
Ingram took note of that in his ruling, ordering Vanover to pay $125 per month until the balance is paid, with the stipulation that interest would only accrue on the balance if it is not paid off within 51 months.
“I’m deeply sympathetic to your situation,” Ingram told Vanover adding that his goal is to ensure other’s think about the potential consequences should they find themselves in a similar situation.
Forest service personnel were called to the scene off of Ky. 478 after officers were advised of a wild fire that was spreading from private property onto forest service property.
In addition to the forest service, Woodbine Volunteer firefighters and the Kentucky Division of Forestry responded to the scene.