One minute you're burning twigs and paper in a rusted-out old barrel on your son's property; then, before you know it, five square miles of national forest have burned and you're being charged $6.3 million. Such is the saga of James G. Anderson Jr., the 77-year-old Wyoming man who, authorities say, sparked the Horsethief Canyon Fire on Sept. 8, 2012 (and allegedly did not notice the smoke until after he'd had a sandwich and watched some football). The US Forest Service sent him the huge bill for firefighting costs, which actually came to more like $9 million in total, the AP reports.
The "upscale" town of Jackson was threatened by the fire, NBC News reports, and residents were told to prepare for evacuation. Ultimately the fire was contained—after burning through part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest—but it came within a half-mile of triggering an evacuation, according to the Wyoming Business Report, and one fire engine was destroyed by the blaze. The $6,309,394.94 was due Dec. 13, but an official concedes that "when you're talking about a $6 million or $9 million fire cost, you're probably going to end up with whatever the insurance policy is on it." Since the civil matter is not yet resolved, no criminal charges have been filed. Investigators believe the fire started when burning material made its way out of the barrel's rusted-out bottom. (Read more forest fire stories.)