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U.S. Attorney Files to Drop Charges in Rim Fire Case after Witness Deaths

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FRESNO-

Charges against the man once accused of starting the destructive Rim Fire are likely to be dropped after the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed to dismiss them Friday.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner cited the “unexpected” deaths of two key witnesses as the reason. Court documents say a man believed to have interacted with Keith Emerald died in February in a workplace accident. Another witness, a helicopter pilot responding to the fire’s origin point, died of a heart attack in March.

The Rim Fire burned for several months in 2013, devastating the Stanislaus National Forest and parts of Yosemite National Park. In all, flames burned 257,314 acres.

Investigators say an illegal hunting fire started by Emerald grew out of control.

Firefighting efforts for the Rim Fire cost $127.35 million. Eleven homes were destroyed.