Federal prosectors allege that two men attempting to steal timber in Washington’s Olympic National Forest started a 3,300-acre fire while trying to burn a bees' nest.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Washington on Monday announced that two men, Justin Wilke and Shawn Williams, were arrested and charged with federal felonies connected to the blaze.
Officials allege that Wilke and Williams were timber thieves who for months sold wood from publicly-owned maple trees — highly sought after for making musical instruments — and presented false permits to local lumber mills.
In August 2018, they identified a big leaf maple they wanted to sell but discovered it contained a bee’s nest, so they decided to kill the bees by burning the nest, authorities say.
Wilke allegedly poured gasoline on the nest, and the men were unable to put out the flames with their water bottles.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed that the fire spread to 3,300 acres of forest and cost $4.5 million to extinguish.
Wilke was arrested and charged with eight felonies, including conspiracy, theft of public property, depredation of public property, trafficking in unlawfully harvest timber, setting timber ablaze and using fire in furtherance of a felony.
Williams, who is in California custody, is charged with conspiracy, depredation of government property and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber.
Conspiracy, setting timber afire and trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber are each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.