A photographer who started fires under Delicate Arch in Arches National Park for dramatic effect was charged with seven misdemeanors Friday in federal court.
Michael Fatali, 36, of Springdale, Utah, burned four fires underneath or near Utah's most recognizable icon, Delicate Arch, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Conservationists attempted to scrub the rock Thursday, but the discoloration of the famous red sandstone proved difficult to remove.
Officials believe the man used manufactured fireplace logs to start three of the fires during a mid-September night last year. The logs contained a waxy substance that penetrated into the soft sandstone.
The charges accuse Fatali of lighting another fire during the same time in a sandy bowl near Delicate Arch. According to investigators, Fatali directed members of his photo workshop group to collect wood to build the fire. He allegedly left it smoldering throughout the night.
Fatali also is being charged for lighting fires four years ago in nearby Canyonlands National Park. Investigators estimate it will cost more than $16,000 to fix the damage there.
Delicate Arch is a four-story stone arch perched on the rim of a deep sandstone canyon in southern Utah. Thousands of people make that 1.5-mile hike every year.
In an e-mail message sent in November to members of the photography community, Fatali apologized for what happened, saying he "seriously regretted" the incident. "I simply screwed up," he said.
Fatali has been charged with crimes in a national park, including defacing mineral resources, unauthorized fire, lighting a damaging fire, leaving it unattended and aiding and abetting. Each of the charges carries a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in prison.