VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 34   |   AUGUST 24 - 30, 2011


Two cousins charged in Wallow Fire

‘This devastating fire destroyed pristine national forest, scenic wilderness, and numerous nearby homes and cabins’

PHOENIX – Criminal charges were filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 24, 2011 against two cousins, Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson, and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson, for starting the Wallow Fire.

The Wallow Fire started on May 29, 2011 in the Alpine Ranger District of the Apache National Forest, Bear Wallow Wilderness, south of the town of Alpine.

The fire burned more than 538,000 acres of national forest system and other lands in Arizona and part of western New Mexico, 32 residential structures, four commercial properties and 36 outbuildings in Apache and Greenlee counties, with fire suppression costs exceeding $79 million.

U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke, of the District of Arizona, stated, “Our national forests are among our most precious resources and we all have a responsibility to care for them when we visit. This devastating fire destroyed pristine national forest, scenic wilderness, and numerous nearby homes and cabins. Its cost for future generations goes well beyond the resources used to fight it.”

The Malboeuf cousins, upon being interviewed by U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Lucas Woolf, both related very similar accounts of their camping and hiking activities in the Bear Wallow Wilderness beginning on May 28.

The Malbouefs said they hiked down into the wilderness and set up camp just below the confluence of the north and south forks of Bear Wallow Creek, which is located in Greenlee County.

According to Woolf’s affidavit, the Malbouefs built a campfire in a campfire ring that evening and cooked dinner over the fire. They said they let the fire go out on its own that evening, taking no action to extinguish it.

The next day at around 8 a.m., they built another fire in the ring and cooked breakfast over the fire.

They stayed at the camp until around 11 a.m. or noon before leaving to go for a hike down the canyon.

Believing their campfire was out, “because David threw a candy wrapper in the fire just prior to their departure and it did not melt.”

When asked by Woolf how they extinguished the fire before leaving the camp, Caleb said because they were at the camp site for three or four hours after cooking over the fire, the fire burned out on its own.

The cousins then told Woolf they left camp and hiked down the canyon about one or two miles. During their trip back up the canyon to their camp they said they could see and smell smoke coming from the proximity of their camp.

When they got within a few hundred yards of the camp they saw fire burning on both sides of the drainage and up the canyon from their camp.

According to Woolf’s affidavit, the Malboeufs tried to return to camp, where they left their dogs tied up, so they could cut them loose.

However, because of the fire and smoke they were unable to get close to the camp site and ran from the area down the canyon toward Black River, where they remained overnight.
The next morning, they said they hiked up river to Wildcat Crossing, where they received a ride from an Apache County Deputy back to their vehicle parked at the Bear Wallow Trailhead.

During a follow-up interview on June 7, Caleb discussed the items left behind at camp, which included two Blue Heeler dogs with tags bearing Caleb and David’s names tied up at the camp, camping equipment, backpacks, bedding, GPS, a .22 caliber pistol and a Marlin 30-30 rifle.

On June 8, the Malboeufs each provided signed affidavits to U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Bryan Bowen, relaying the same information as they provided to Woolf.

David also listed items he had left behind at camp, which, in addition to the items noted by Caleb, included an Olympus camera, lighter, water filter, headlamp, inflatable pillow and food.

When U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement officers conducted an on scene and cause investigation at the area of origin of the Wallow Fire, it revealed the Wallow Fire originated from an escaped campfire that was left unattended and unextinguished, with no attempt made to clear any flammable materials from around the campfire to prevent its escape.
They also found the items the Malboeufs listed as being at their camp, including the two Blue Heeler dogs tied to trees.

One of the dogs was deceased and had a collar around its neck with David Malboeuf’s contact information on it. The second dog, which carried Caleb Malboeuf’s contact information, was still alive.

During a subsequent interview, Caleb stated it was “windy all day” when they left the campsite on Sunday morning but said they had no concerns about the fire escaping because he believed the fire was out, which he claimed was evidenced by the “Gummie Bear” wrapper David threw into the fire pit, because it did not shrivel or melt.

Caleb also stated they took neither a bucket nor shovel with them into the wilderness and had not used water or dirt to extinguish the cooking fires.

Both men stated they were experienced campers who were familiar with the Apache National Forest, which they have frequented for years.

They Malboeufs said they believed they took every precaution to prevent their campfire from escaping and in no way intended to cause a forest fire. 

The Malboeufs are scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Flagstaff on Sept. 19, 2011, where they are facing charges of leaving campfire unattended and unextinguished on federal land in the Apache National Forest, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C., Sections 1856 and 2, and with causing timbers, trees, slash or grass to burn without authorization on federal lands in the Apache National Forest, in violation of Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 261.5(c) and Title 18, U.S.C., Section 2.