Misdemeanor is maximum charge for teen accused in Party Rock Fire

Photo credit: WLOS staff

It began in November of last year, scorching thousands of acres of woodlands.

The Party Rock Fire forced people from their homes, and had an economic impact on a major mountain tourist area.

Fighting the flames that burned for almost a month cost millions of dollars.

On Saturday, there are new details in the ongoing investigation into the cause of that blaze, and a 17-year old is now facing charges.

Because this person is a minor, News 13 will not release his identity. He is facing a misdemeanor charge in connection to the wildfire that burned 7000 acres.

The teen made his first court appearance in Rutherford County earlier this week after he was served a criminal summons by District Attorney Ted Bell back in July.

The wildfire that scorched areas of Lake Lure, Chimney Rock and Bat Cave caused mandatory evacuations, and firefighting cost were upwards of $7 million.

Some residents in the area say a misdemeanor charge is not enough for the damage that was done, but District Attorney Bell says it's the maximum charge allowed under North Carolina law.

"I understand for all of the people that were affected by this fire it really seems like a ridiculously low charge," Bell said. But under North Carolina law, he says, "it doesn't matter whether 7 square feet or 7000 acres were burned."

Despite all the other massive impacts, no one was injured, and no structures burned down.

"It doesn't really factor in under the law to the level of charge," he continued. "It's purely, was it just brush lands versus did a building get burned, versus was there any serious injuries.

The next appointed court date for the teen is August 30, 2017.

The North Carolina Forest Service is the lead investigating agency on this case, and we did ask Bell how authorities were able to connect the teen to the Party Rock Fire.

But because this is an ongoing case, he said, he could not release that information at this time.

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