RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) A Newcastle, Wyo., woman has been arrested on suspicion of deliberately setting the Jasper Fire, the largest wildfire in the history of the Black Hills.
Janice Stevenson, 46, faces a federal charge of setting timber on fire on U.S. Forest Service property, U.S. Attorney Ted L. McBride said Friday night.
She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. She also could be billed for the cost of the blaze, McBride said. That could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor John Twiss said.
Stevenson was arrested at about 8 p.m. Friday at a relatives home west of Custer, said Custer County Sheriff Gregory Foster. She is being held in Pennington County, he said. Pennington County Jail officials contacted Friday night said no one by the name Janice Stevenson was in custody there. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
Investigators said Stevenson admitted that she stopped on Jasper Cave Road the afternoon of Aug. 24. She said she urinated, then lighted a cigarette and tossed the burning match to the ground, according to U.S. Forest Service Special Agents Luke Konantz and Ron Pugh.
Rather than putting the fire out, she looked at it and decided to leave the area, they stated in a court affidavit.
She admitted she could have put the fire out, but she did not.
Investigators interviewed Stevenson over a period of days and said they found her story inconsistent. She initially denied starting the fire, they said.
On Friday, in an interview at the site where the fire started, she stated that she was certain the large fire that burned that day and in the days that followed was from her match, according to the affidavit.
Special Agent Pugh informed me that Ms. Stevenson then indicated that she meant to start the fire, she just didnt expect it to get that big, Konantz said.
The site that Stevenson indicated was in fact where the fire started, just north of U.S. Highway 16 and beside Jasper Cave Road, near Jewel Cave National Monument, according to the affidavit.
Stevenson is to make her first court appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Rapid City.
It was not immediately clear what led authorities to her.
McBride credited the Forest Services work in the case.
They did a hell of a job, he said.
The fire burned more than 83,000 acres in the Black Hills. More than 1,000 firefighters fought the blaze. A containment ring around the fire was completed Sept. 8.