Two cousins who accidentally started Arizona’s largest wildfire will begin paying more than $3.7 million in restitution next year, a little at a time.
U.S. Magistrate Mark Aspey outlined the payment schedule late Monday that requires Caleb Malboeuf to turn over $500 a month. David Malboeuf initially will pay half that amount, but the figure increases to $500 monthly in January 2016.
Those who suffered property or other losses when the Wallow Fire swept through eastern Arizona and didn’t have insurance will be first in line to receive payments that start Jan. 15. Those who had some out-of-pocket costs are next in line, followed by insurance companies that are owed the bulk of the money at nearly $3.4 million.
The Malboeufs served a weekend in jail, and were given community service and probation for leaving their campfire unattended in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest and failing to clear brush from around it. The blaze burned 840 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico for a month last summer before it was fully contained.
The payments are in line with what the Malboeufs’ attorneys had suggested to Aspey during a restitution hearing earlier this month.
Some people lost homes and belongings, and freezers full of meat from hunting trips as a result of the fire, while others were looking to be compensated for cleaning up dead and burned trees from their property. Some restitution claims were rejected because of a lack of documentation or because the damage was unrelated to the fire.
Only once did anyone identified as a victim show up at one of the hearings for the Malboeufs. At the time, Jim Brannan’s frustration wasn’t directed at the Malboeufs but at the U.S. Forest Service. His home in Nutrioso was destroyed by the fire, and he’s among the first group of restitution recipients with an approved claim of more than $65,000.
Tina Poole and her husband lost a trailer filled with camping gear that they had set up on 11 acres between Nutrioso and Alpine. They had hoped to one day build a home on the secluded land that sits on a sloping hillside, but they no longer see themselves living there in retirement because of the changed landscape, she said.
The Pooles initially submitted a claim for $7,000 but withdrew it, saying she realized others needed the money more than she did.
“I understand there’s a lot of people who are very angry and they want some sort of restitution for that,” said Poole, of Gilbert. “I’ve got enough on my plate; I needed to let that go. There were other things bigger in our life.”
It’s unlikely that the Malboeufs can fully satisfy the claims in their lifetimes, but residents in eastern Arizona and attorneys in the case say the monthly payments will be a constant reminder of the men’s actions and the devastation the fire caused. The firefighting effort cost more than $79 million. The blaze destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins, and at one point, nearly 10,000 people were forced to evacuate.
“That’s a lifetime payment, if you’re just a working man, of $500 and you’re not buying a house, you’re not paying a credit card,” said Stuart Moring, the postmaster in Nutrioso. “I can’t even imagine.”
David Malboeuf had been working at a state prison but said he intends to go back to school. Caleb Malboeuf owns a small construction business and has talked about helping some of the victims rebuild through that business, said his attorney David Derickson. The cousins would be available to talk about their experiences camping in Arizona’s forests as well as their missteps, Derickson said.
“I hope the U.S. Forest Service will utilize them, I hope schools will call upon them, and they’ll respond,” Derickson said. “It’s a terrible tragedy to them as well as to anybody else.”