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Woman charged in forest fire to be billed

Sunday, March 10, 2002

By The Associated Press

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The state Bureau of Forestry said it would send a bill for $730,000 to a woman charged with starting a blaze that burned 2,500 acres in the drought-plagued Pine Creek Valley.

Rosalie L. Sheaffer was charged in November with accidentally igniting the blaze while she was burning trash outside a cabin in Cummings, Lycoming County.

Embers from the pile set fire to the woods and winds whipped the flames through Tiadaghton State Forest and about 500 acres of private property.

No homes were destroyed and no one was injured, but Tiadaghton District Forester Jeffrey Prowant said Sheaffer should be held accountable for the damage.

"We'll send her a bill," he said. "If she doesn't pay, we'll have to start a civil action to try to collect."

Firefighters took six days to extinguish the fire, the largest in the county since 3,400 acres were consumed by flame in 1976.

Sheaffer, 59, is unlikely to face a severe penalty from the criminal charge, which is a misdemeanor, prosecutors said.

But state law holds that a person who causes a forest fire is liable for the costs of putting it out, plus damages for destroyed timber and lost recreation land.

Prowant said the sate spent about $75,000 putting out the fire and estimated that it caused $659,000 in damage.

The fire was one of four that sizzled thousands of acres in the mountains around Waterville and Ramsey last year. The fires have continued this winter as the state deals with one of its worst droughts in decades.

"If this keeps up, it's going to be nothing but black from Camp Kline to Waterville," Prowant said.

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