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3 teenagers charged with starting Washington County wildfire that burned nearly 12K acres

By Jacob Klopfenstein, KSL.com | Updated - Sep. 23, 2020 at 11:59 a.m. | Posted - Sep. 23, 2020 at 10:02 a.m.



ST. GEORGE — Three Washington County teenagers have been charged with starting a wildfire that burned thousands of acres north of St. George in July.

The teens, who are from the St. George area, were charged with reckless burning, using fireworks in a restricted area, obstructing justice and providing false information, according to a news release from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

They are accused of starting the Turkey Farm Road Fire, which started July 13 and burned just under 12,000 acres of federal, state and private lands north of St. George, the release said. Fireworks set off in a restricted area are believed to be the cause of the fire, officials said.

The three have been referred to the Washington County Juvenile Court system, according to the release. They were not identified.

A parent of one of the teenagers has also been charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the fire investigation. The parent also wasn’t identified.

Tips from the public helped fire investigators identify and locate the teenagers, according to the release.

Costs for suppressing the fire exceeded $2.5 million, and the burned area will need extensive rehabilitation efforts, the release said. Local and federal land management agencies plan to pursue cost recovery for taxpayer dollars used to fight the fire and rehabilitate the area, according to the release.

The Associated Press reported the fire destroyed "large swaths" of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which was established in 2009 as habitat land for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve officials said they found at least five surviving tortoises after the fire; the AP reported that at least one tortoise died. One of the surviving tortoises that survived the Turkey Farm Road Fire also had old burn scars from surviving a 2005 wildfire in the same area, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

"In order for a tortoise to survive a wildfire, it must be in a stable deep burrow and, importantly, remain in the burrow until the surrounding ash cools," the agency wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. "Our biologists are working within the Habitat Conservation Plan and partnering with the Bureau of Land Management to conduct surveys in the areas burned by wildfires to assess their impacts to the desert tortoise populations still, but they were happy to see this survivor out there roaming still."

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