HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man was arrested Wednesday for causing a fire near Yellowstone National Park that has burned 46 square miles (120 square kilometers) and torched more than two dozen homes and other structures.
John Lightburn, 55, of Bridger, was charged with felony negligent arson and felony criminal mischief for allegedly starting the fire while attempting to repair his motorcycle on U.S. Forest Service land south of Red Lodge, Montana, along the state line with Wyoming, according to an affidavit by Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon.
Lightburn told a retired investigator near the scene of the fire June 13 that he was riding a dirt bike on a trail in the Robertson Draw area that had been closed to motor vehicles, according to the affidavit.
Conditions that day were unseasonably hot and dry, contributing to the fire risk.
Lightburn told a Forest Service law enforcement officer who responded to the scene of the fire that his dirt bike had appeared to be flooding. During an attempt to repair the bike, Lightburn said he spilled gasoline, allegedly telling the officer that there was “gas all over.”
The man then told the officer that he checked the spark plug, causing a spark that ignited the gasoline and the vegetation around it. The officer later found an abandoned motorcycle that appeared burned on the scene.
Lightburn was taken Wednesday to the Gallatin County Detention Center, where he was being held on a $7,500 bond. He could not be reached for comment. It was unclear if he had an attorney.
The fire was just over 50% contained as of Wednesday, according to fire officials, and has burned seasonal cabins, homes and other structures. Efforts to contain it have cost $5 million to date, according to officials.