17-year-old facing charges in Party Rock fire

RUTHERFORD CO., N.C. (WSPA) – A 17-year-old is facing two misdemeanor charges in connection with the Party Rock fire of November 2016 that burned over 7,000 acres in Lake Lure, Chimney Rock, and Bat Cave, according to a press release.

17-year-old Aaron Rolls is facing charges of allegedly “negligently setting or causing to be set on fire of any woods, land or fields in any county under the protection of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources.”

For over four weeks in November, the fire burned 2,489 acres on NC State Park property and 4,653 acres on private property.

Firefighting costs are estimated at $7 million.

“Under North Carolina law, someone who starts a wildfire can only be charged with a felony of it is intentionally set or if it ends up burning a building or results in a serious injury,” District Attorney Bell said.

However, if it only burns brushlands or woodlands, or was negligently started, then it can only be charged as a misdemeanor, no matter how much damage it does.

“Because of the excellent work by all of the people involved in fighting this fire there was no damage to any buildings and no one was injured, and the evidence is it was negligently set,” Bell said.

Under the law, the Defendant can only be charged with a misdemeanor despite the massive size of the fire.

However, under North Carolina law, the defendant may be sued by the property owners whose land was also damaged by the fire.

“The Party Rock fire presented our area with some tremendous challenges,” said Lake Lure Mayor Bob Keith. “There remains certainly a great deal of interest in the investigation, but we are fully confident in our state and local law enforcement officials to work through the court process in this matter.”

Rolls is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause hearing on August. 30th.

The investigation into the Party Rock Fire continues.

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