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Man charged in massive Utah wildfire ordered to trial

July 31, 2019

PROVO, Utah (AP) — A man charged with reckless burning that sparked a massive 2017 wildfire in southern Utah was ordered Tuesday to stand trial.

Judge James Brady ruled there was enough evidence for the misdemeanor case against Robert Lyman, 63, to proceed, KUTV reported .

The retired teacher and basketball coach from Taylorsville is charged with reckless burning and burning without a permit in the fire that destroyed 13 homes.

If convicted, he could face jail time and be held liable for the nearly $40 million cost of fighting the fire near Brian Head.

Authorities said Lyman cut down trees as a way to protect his cabin near the ski town from fire then burned the debris.

The blaze lit with charcoal lighter quickly burned out of control, eventually blackening more than 110 square miles (283 square kilometers), authorities said.

Defense attorney Andrew Deiss has argued that forest mismanagement made the area more wildfire-prone and a flawed firefighting effort allowed it to burn longer.

Ryan Riddle with the Utah Department of Natural Services, Division of Forestry testified Tuesday that he was first on the scene on June 17, 2017, after Lyman and a passer-by called 911.

Riddle saw flames 100 feet (30 meters) high when he arrived. One cabin had already burned to the ground and another was severely damaged, he said.

He issued evacuation orders.

“There was a threat to life safety,” he said.

Lyman did not have a permit, and another property owner who did ask for a permit later withdrew his request because he felt uncomfortable burning due to the high fire risk, Riddle said.

Fire investigator Dan Barnes testified that Lyman’s burn piles appeared bigger than he initially reported, and his hose and buckets of water weren’t enough preparation in case the fire grew out of control.

The case was previously transferred out of Iron County after the defense successfully argued that local anger about the fire would prevent Lyman from getting a fair trial.

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