Hear Me Out: Should convicted Wallow Fire arsonists be punished more?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

Don't worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters, too.

This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not the convicted arsonists of Arizona's Wallow Fire should face more than just a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

We had two business owners affected by the Wallow Fire weigh in.

Kristi Spillman, a business owner in Greer, says community service does a lot in this type of "rehabilitation" situation. She says we shouldn't stunt the lives of these men because of their ignorance.

Doug Sandahl, another business owner in Greer, says he doesn't think that one year in jail and a $10,000 fine is a punishment that fits the severity of this horrendous crime.

Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, "It's not enough ".


"It's not enough": By Doug Sandahl, business owner in Greer

I have camped in the forests of Arizona since I was a small boy.  Using our beautiful national forests is a privilege, and with this privilege goes responsibility.  The national forests are here for all responsible citizens to enjoy.  These convicted arsonists have admitted their guilt. So, there is no doubt about their being arsonists. "Arson" is defined as "the act of intentionally or recklessly setting fire to another's property for some improper reason".  It seems to me if they admitted to committing arson, wouldn't you like to know why they either intentionally or recklessly set this fire, and what was the improper reason.  Arson is not defined as "an accident".  If the news reports are accurate that "these are convicted arsonists", then doesn't that mean, by definition, it was not an accident?

If in fact the news reports are correct, then these 2 men are arsonists, and the punishment should fit the crime. Arson is a crime. It is my understanding that because arson is such a horrific crime, which can result in the loss of life, that there is no statute of limitations on an arson.  This crime destroyed over 500,000 acres of pristine national forest, and the damage will not be repaired in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my children or grandchildren.  This crime destroyed 36 cabins. This crime cost the taxpayers $79 million to put out, and estimates are that it will cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars to repair, over the next 10-20 years.

This crime caused the destruction of the entire White Mountains economy from June through December 2011; and will have a devastating impact for the foreseeable future. This crime caused people to lose their jobs or businesses, some of which lost the ability to support their families when put out of work.  Many of which probably had their credit record dinged for being unable to make their mortgage or car payments. The effects of this crime on the residents of the White Mountains is horrendous.  

This crime nearly caused me to lose my business, a lifetime's work. This crime cost my business several million dollars, and these criminals are not going to make restitution payments to my business or to anyone else whose businesses or personal lives were damaged by their crime of arson.

News reports say these are "admitted" arsonists, that pled guilty to the crime of arson. Their punishment should be commensurate with the crime the committed. This crime has inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, destroyed peoples homes and treasured possessions, destroyed a vast natural resource owned by the public, caused tremendous damage to hundreds of White Mountains small businesses, and negatively impacted thousands of White Mountains residents.

I do not think that one year in jail and a $10,000 fine is a punishment that fits the severity of this horrendous crime.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

Click "next page" to read the second position, "Jail time is a waste of time ".


"Jail time is a waste of time": By Kristi Spillman, business owner in Greer

I live in Greer, Arizona and my home, small business and future were threatened by the 2011 Wallow Fire. As we all know, small mistakes can lead to huge disasters. Two young men went camping unarmed with education on fire safety. Their carelessness led to loss of homes, forests, and wildlife in our delicate Arizona wilderness.

Jail time for these young men is a waste of time and more government dollars. I would imagine they have spent the last year regretting their actions and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

Instead of these men sitting in an correctional facility for a year, why not arm them with the knowledge that they were lacking and get them into fire safety and education programs to speak to Arizona's youth on protecting our forests? I think a lot can be learned from these guys on "what not to do" in our beautiful forests. Children can listen and learn from their experience. USFS offers many types of fire education programs for children and adults.

Community service does a lot in this type of "rehabilitation" situation. Let's not stunt the lives of these men because of their ignorance. I think we need to give them a chance to redeem themselves and serve the communities devastated by their carelessness. There's a lot more to this story than just "two negligent guys burn down a forest."

A few years of probation, community service and, yes, a fine of $10,000 can help heal the wounds from the Wallow Fire and prevent future problems for our forests. If we are going to throw the book at them, make sure it's one on wilderness education. I think Smokey the Bear would agree. Only you and education can help prevent forest fires.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

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