Defendant Ordered to Pay $2.4 Million in Restitution
Judge Grants 11 Level Sentencing Enhancement Based on the Abuse of Trust as a Firefighter and Suppression Costs
SAN JOSE – LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan announced that Craig Matthew Underwood was sentenced yesterday afternoon to four months in prison; four months of home detention; three years of supervised release;150 hours of community service; and must pay $2,442,000 in restitution for three counts of arson while employed as a firefighter by the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Underwood intentionally set three fires within two months in Los Padres National Forest in 2004. The three fires were named the Memorial Fire, the Slide Fire, and Fred’s Fire, and occurred on July 28, 2004, August 14, 2004, and September 22, 2004, respectively. As a condition of supervised release, Mr. Underwood was ordered not to seek employment as a firefighter. This sentencing is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.
Mr Underwood started the first fire on July 28, 2004, with a cigarette lighter. He made a campfire ring in an attempt to make it look like the fire was an “escaped” campfire. Prior to starting the fire, Mr. Underwood removed his boots and put on heavy woolen socks to keep from leaving identifiable foot prints. The fire burned timber, underbrush, and grass, and the Forest Service calculated that it cost $177,506 to extinguish the fire.
The second fire was started 17 days later, on August 14, 2004. With this fire, Mr Underwood ignited four different sites in an unsuccessful effort to create fires that would merge into a single fire, climb a ridge, and travel quickly. Due to high humidity and low wind conditions at the time, all four fires went out by themselves after Mr Underwood left the area. The Forest Service responded to the fire, but no suppression efforts were necessary. The Forest Service has calculated that it cost $7,164 to respond.
Mr. Underwood admitted that he started the third, and by far the biggest, fire 39 days later, on September 22, 2004. He started the fire near a picnic ground called the Arroyo Seco Day Use Area . It took the Forest Service and other firefighting agencies four days to extinguish it. It burned approximately 768 acres, and cost $2.24 million to extinguish.
Unlike the first two fires, the Forest Service incurred additional land rehabilitation costs after the fire was extinguished. These costs included efforts to repair creek banks to keep them from overflowing and flooding due to the increased runoff caused by the fire.
No one was injured in any of the three fires.
Authorities began an investigation after the first fire, the Memorial Fire. After the second fire on August 14, 2004, a court-authorized global positioning tracker was placed on Mr. Underwood’s truck and Mr. Underwood’s residence was placed under surveillance.
Mr. Underwood was arrested on November 23, 2004, and was indicted by a federal grand jury on December 16, 2004. He was charged with three counts of setting fires to U.S. lands in violation of Title 18, United States Code, section 1855. Under a plea agreement, Mr. Underwood pleaded guilty to all counts.
Gary G. Fry is the Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case with the assistance of Legal Technician Tracey Andersen.