A bow hunter pleaded not guilty Tuesday to starting an illegal campfire that sparked the massive Rim fire, the third-largest fire in recorded state history.
Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of Columbia, Calif., surrendered to authorities earlier in the day, according to a U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman, and was taken into custody following a hearing on charges that he helped spark last year's blaze, which scorched more than 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite National Park.
His bail was set at $60,000.
Emerald is charged with setting timber afire and lying to a government agency, both felonies. He is also charged with two misdemeanor counts of violating a fire restriction order, and leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished.
Ten people were injured and more than 100 structures were destroyed during the Rim fire, which started Aug. 17, 2013, in the Stanislaus National Forest.
Fighting the fire cost more than $125 million, but officials said the total damage was estimated at hundreds of millions more.
Emerald was on a deer-hunting trip and ignored temporary no-fire restrictions for the national forest, prosecutors said. He had to be rescued by helicopter an hour after the fire was reported.
Investigators said Emerald lied to them about how the fire started, blaming it on a rock slide and then on marijuana growers.
Emerald finally admitted in a signed affidavit that he started a campfire using pine needles, twigs and a lighter, but apparently lied because he feared retaliation from the community.