AP NEWS

Charge: Timber thieves started Olympic National Forest fire

September 30, 2019

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Federal prosecutors say timber thieves were to blame for a fire in Washington’s Olympic National Forest last year.

An indictment unsealed Monday says Justin Wilke and Shawn Williams were trying to steal a big leaf maple tree in August 2018, but it had a bees nest. They decided to burn the nest with gasoline, and then tried unsuccessfully to douse the fire with their water bottles.

Nearly 5.2 square miles (13.4 square kilometers) of public land burned.

Wilke was arrested Monday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Williams is in custody in California. It was not immediately clear if either had a lawyer.

The indictment said Wilke previously sold stolen maple blocks to a Tumwater mill in for $13,000, falsely representing that the wood came from private land. The wood is prized for making instruments.