California Man Arraigned For Wildfire

REDDING, Calif. (AP) -- A Shasta County man was arraigned Monday on a felony arson charges, accused of recklessly causing a 10,000-acre fire that destroyed 80 homes, officials said.

William Matthew Rupp, 44, was charged with a felony count of recklessly causing a fire, with an enhancement because of the multiple structures that burned, said Assistant District Attorney Dan Flynn.

He also faces a misdemeanor charge of causing a fire by negligently operating machinery. Rupp was released on his own recognizance because he isn't considered a danger to the community, Flynn said.

``He's not a fire bug. He doesn't run around setting fires,'' he said. Rupp's release was conditional on his not using any machinery to clear his land, but Flynn added, ``there's no more fuel on his land to start a fire.''

The Bear Fire began Aug. 11 south of Shasta Lake and spread to more than 10,000 acres, destroying 80 homes, 30 outbuildings and 10 vehicles before it was contained five days later.

Prosecutors say the fire started when Rupp's lawnmower struck a rock in dry grass.

If convicted on all counts, Rupp could face up to six years in prison and be responsible for the cost of the fire, Flynn said.

``The price tag is still coming in, but we're talking millions,'' he said, ``and he doesn't have it.''

A call to the public defender appointed to represent Rupp wasn't immediately returned.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had put the state under a ``red flag'' alert over the weekend, indicating a high risk for wildfires. But that alert was called off Monday, said Jim Wright, CDF's chief of fire protection.

The state is seeing a lull in the middle of its fire season, he said.

``We have no large fires right now,'' he said. ``We still have a few days of hot dry weather coming up, so it could change.''