Dietrich resident Sean Newman, 43, was sentenced to complete 200 hours of community service in Blaine County, where he pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor firing timber or prairie lands at Lions Park in Hailey on the Fourth of July last year.
The guilty plea came after the prosecuting attorney filed an amended complaint on May 8.
Newman was originally charged with felony third-degree arson for lighting a small amount of cottonseed duff at the park. The duff immediately ignited and burned roughly three-fourths of an acre, requiring the evacuation of hundreds of residents enjoying live music and food at Riverfest.
“It was about the dumbest thing you could do on the Fourth of July in the middle of Hailey,” prosecutor Matt Fredback said Tuesday.
Initially, Newman lied to police and said a 12- to 14-year-old male had lit the duff and Newman was simply trying to extinguish the flames when people saw him. But a handful of eyewitnesses all told first responders that they had seen Newman crouch down and light the cottonseed with his lighter. Later, Newman confessed to officers.
“I lit a little bit of cotton and it spread,” Newman said in court Tuesday.
Though there were no physical injuries due to the fire, the accident disrupted Independence Day celebrations and put hundreds at risk. In addition to the community service, Newman was ordered to pay $1,198 in restitution to Wood River Fire & Rescue for the cost of extinguishing the fire.
Newman, who works as an electrician, will also be on probation for the next two years.
“I want to apologize to the community,” he said before his sentencing, adding that a lighter is one of the most important tools that an electrician carries with him in his work and that since this incident occurred, he no longer carries one.
According to a probable-cause affidavit written by Blaine County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Pritchard, Newman was attempting to demonstrate to a woman he was walking with how quickly cottonseed duff could burn, and when the duff caught, it spread much more quickly than he had anticipated.