Man ordered to pay $53,000 for last year’s Frey Gulch Fire, plus 120 hours community service
It’s been more than a year since a man from Denver made a fateful trip to the Summit County Shooting Range near Dillon, where he fired explosive tracer rounds that ignited the 22-acre Frey Gulch Fire.
Tracer rounds are prohibited at the range, but it wasn’t the first time they had started a fire; in 2012 they were believed to have whipped up a small, 0.66-acre fire, although it was quickly extinguished.
By all accounts, Bryson Robert Jones, the man whose specialty ammo started the Frey Gulch Fire on Oct. 8 last year, was shocked and horrified when the fire started. He immediately took responsibility when first responders arrived and was sick with anxiety and grief, according to incident reports.
Nonetheless, he was ordered by the Summit County Court to pay nearly $53,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service, underscoring the potentially enormous cost of even an honest mistake if it happens to cause a wildfire.
It could have been even worse. The fire cost the Forest Service an estimated $161,000, but the agency thought it would be magnanimous to only ask for about a third of that.
Jones’ standup behavior at the scene of the fire was a likely factor in that decision, and the District Attorney’s Office ended up only asking that the court order him to pay for the first bill that went through.
“In the reports, it was indicated that as soon as the fire started he was incredibly freaked out by everything that was taking place,” deputy DA Stephanie Cava said. “I think everybody agreed that we didn’t want to come down on him terribly hard.”
Jones began making payments in July, according to the DA’s office, which accepted his guilty plea to one count of class-four arson, a misdemeanor, in January. He received a two-year deferred sentence.
Given the size of the fire, he could have been charged with a more serious crime, but staying on the scene and owning up to what happened likely won him some leniency.
“Based on how Mr. Jones cooperated and was clearly upset, I’m guessing the officers cited him a little lower,” Cava said. “Then it was for our office to say whether we could amend the charge up, but we decided to leave it where it was.”
Jones declined to comment through Doozie Martin, programs manager for the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. As part of the deferred sentence Jones agreed to in January, he must complete 120 hours of community service with the local trail maintenance and education nonprofit.
“He has done everything the court and FDRD has asked him to do and is eager to put this horrific life event behind him,” Martin said in an email. “He’s a really good guy and I support him fully in his desire to move on with his life.”
Cases like Jones’, where the person responsible for a blaze is clearly identified, are rare. The federal government will likely recoup pennies on the dollar for the portion of this year’s record-setting $2 billion fire season that will be subject to restitution payments.
The Frey Gulch bill is very large, and Jones will be paying it down for a while. But it pales in comparison to the $2 million price tag for the Peak 2 Fire, which scorched 82 acres near Breckenridge in July and elicited a massive air show of slurry tankers and helicopters.
That fire was human-caused, and whoever started it could be ordered to pay the full tab. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the case and has been trying to identify two hikers reportedly seen in the area right before the Peak 2 Fire started.
Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons dismissed rumors that his office had identified suspects and said the inquiry was still ongoing.