Judge orders restitution in Seward grass fire

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- A teen-ager who accidentally started a wildfire in May has been handed a $14,000 bill to reimburse fire departments that fought the blaze and to pay for damages.

John Hamilton, 18, pleaded no contest Oct. 23 to one charge of criminally negligent burning. Magistrate George Peck ordered Hamilton to pay restitution of $14,549.19. Hamilton also was placed on probation for five years.

Hamilton, who is attending college in Idaho, will be required to make payments of $3,000 annually, according to court documents.

Hamilton could not be reached for comment and his father refused to comment when contacted by the Seward Phoenix Log.

According to Seward police officer Joe Bond, Hamilton accidentally started a grass fire May 10 that burned 2.5 acres of a mountainside near Japanese Creek and caused the 2 a.m. evacuation of about 50 families from Gateway Subdivision.

The Seward High School senior ignited weeds at the end of a stick to search for his baseball cap that had been swept away by a gust of wind during a friendly tussle with a fellow student, Bond said.

Strong northerly winds blew the flames into underbrush dried from weeks of sunny weather, quickly igniting a fire that the teen-agers were unable to extinguish.

Seward's emergency units responded to keep the blaze from reaching a subdivision 400 yards away. The city administration declared an emergency and maintained an operation center at city hall. No one was injured in the fire, which was extinguished by midmorning.

Police were led to Hamilton following interviews with teens seen leaving the area the night of the party, Bond said.

Hamilton's restitution was based on submitted bills. Expenses reported by the Bear Creek Fire Department and the Seward Volunteer Fire Department accounted for $12,250. The U.S. Forest Service said it spent $1,363 on the fire.

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