FAIRBANKS - The man blamed for unintentionally starting the fire that burned roughly 23,000 acres and four cabins near the end of Chena Hot Springs Road last month has pleaded no contest to illegal burning.
State forestry officials said Asger Hoyem was burning trash May 23 in a short burn barrel without a suitable screen cover and didn't have vegetation cleared around the barrel. Embers from the burn barrel ignited nearby dry grass and flames spread quickly into nearby black spruce.
Hoyem, who had no phone at his house, had to walk 90 minutes to find a phone and report the fire, said Marc Lee, Fairbanks area forester for the state Division of Forestry.
Hoyem, who represented himself, pleaded no contest at his arraignment Thursday in Fairbanks to burning without a burn permit, not having an adequate fire break around the barrel and failure to exercise due care to put the fire out.
Magistrate Ronald Smith sentenced Hoyem to either pay $1,200 in fines or serve a total of 192 hours of community service within two years with 90 days of jail time suspended.
But whether Hoyem, 35, will have to pay for the $3.4 million it took to fight the fire or will have to pay homeowners for the four destroyed cabins, each estimated to be worth between $25,000 and $175,000, won't be determined until later.