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Montana man charged with negligent arson, 7 homes burned

July 7, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this June 15, 2021, file photo residents watch as flames from the Robertson Draw fire burn above Red Lodge, Mont. John Lightburn, 55, of Bridger, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, to charges alleging that he caused the fire that burned seven homes and 46 square miles of land. Lightburn faces felony and misdemeanor charges of negligent arson and a felony criminal mischief charge. Prosecutors say Lightburn reported he sparked the fire while trying to repair a dirt bike that he was riding on U.S. Forest Service land that was closed to motorized vehicle use. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP, File)
FILE - In this June 15, 2021, file photo residents watch as flames from the Robertson Draw fire burn above Red Lodge, Mont. John Lightburn, 55, of Bridger, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, to charges alleging that he caused the fire that burned seven homes and 46 square miles of land. Lightburn faces felony and misdemeanor charges of negligent arson and a felony criminal mischief charge. Prosecutors say Lightburn reported he sparked the fire while trying to repair a dirt bike that he was riding on U.S. Forest Service land that was closed to motorized vehicle use. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP, File)

RED LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges alleging he caused a wildland fire north of Yellowstone National Park that burned seven homes and 46 square miles (119 square kilometers) of land.

John Lightburn, 55, of Bridger appeared before District Court Judge Matthew Wald on felony and misdemeanor charges of negligent arson and a felony criminal mischief charge for the fire that started on June 13 on U.S. Forest Service land about 7 miles (11 kilometers) south of Red Lodge.

Wald rejected a request from Lightburn’s attorney to reduce his $7,500 bail, court officials said.

Lightburn told investigators he spilled gasoline “all over” while trying to fix his dirt bike, which he was riding in an area closed to motorized vehicles, court records said.

He said he checked his spark plug, which sparked and ignited the gasoline and surrounding grasses. Hot and dry weather and the wind pushed the flames.

The fire also burned a U.S. Bureau of Land Management administrative cabin and a dozen outbuildings and led to evacuations, fire officials said.

Fire crews had fire line around 69% of the fire’s perimeter on Wednesday, but are not yet estimating a containment date.