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Is it a crime to start a fire on federal land?

On Behalf of | Nov 23, 2023 | Federal Criminal Defense

On trips to national parks and other public domain land, you may have encountered signs that warn you not to start a fire. These signs are a safety precaution since it’s not too difficult for a simple campfire to turn into a raging wildfire right in the middle of a forested area full of dry leaves and underbrush.

But what if you do start a fire? Per federal law, you commit a criminal offense if you start a bonfire without authorization.

Fires in public domain lands are prohibited

According to federal rules, anyone who willfully and without authority sets on fire any timber, underbrush, grass or other inflammable material on any public domain lands, lands administered by the U.S. government, lands under contract for purchase or any Indian reservation commits an offense.

A conviction for this offense leads to fines and up to five years of imprisonment.

Leaving fires unattended is also a crime

There are also strict rules for federal land where campfires and bonfires are allowed. The U.S. Code prohibits anyone from leaving a fire unattended in public domain, federal or Indian reservation land, without completely extinguishing the embers.

This offense carries fines and up to six months of jail time on conviction.

Wildfires are a real threat. While Mother Nature causes some of these infernos, a dangerous campfire mistake can also set off a blaze that burns hectares of land. The federal government takes unauthorized fires seriously, and anyone caught trying to start one or not putting out a fire can face criminal charges.

Because the offense can lead to years of prison time, those who face charges for starting an unauthorized fire may want to work with a legal professional to sort their case and defense in court.