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Californa woman who started 2002 Sequoia fire sentenced

Californa woman who started 2002 Sequoia fire sentenced

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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A Bakersfield woman who started the worst fire in Sequoia National Forest's recorded history was sentenced to 18 months in prison Monday.

Peri Dare Van Brunt, 46, wept as U.S. District Judge Robert Coyle confirmed the sentence she agreed to in a deal reached with federal prosecutors in May.

Van Brunt pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of leaving a fire unattended and unextinguished, causing timber and other growth to burn and setting a campfire without removing nearby flammable material.

Van Brunt is also required to pay restitution, which will be decided next month.

The U.S. Forest Service is asking for $148 million, the cost of battling the fire, forest restoration and other losses, such as losses in hunting licenses and food, hotel and gas revenues.

Defense attorney Francine Zepeda asked that her client serve her sentence in a drug treatment program at a new women's facility near Victorville.

Van Brunt, who has a jail record for drug convictions, was placed in a drug-treatment program after her father posted a $35,000 bond on Aug. 2, 2002.

She has apologized for igniting the fire that burned for four months and reached within a mile of a grove that contains some of the nation's oldest and largest trees.

"I am truly so sorry for the grief and loss I've caused so many," Van Brunt wrote in a letter to the judge. "The sequoias have been a major part of my life since I was 2 years old, and I would never intentionally destroy them. Some of the happiest memories I have are of camping in those mountains. Now those memories are clouded by horror, guilt and shame."

The McNally fire, which also burned parts of the Inyo National Forest, scorched more than 150,000 acres, destroyed three homes, five commercial properties, including a lodge, and six other buildings.

Private landowners are also asking for restitution, which is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, federal prosecutor Carl Faller said.

Van Brunt, an unemployed cook, admitted lighting a campfire without a permit on July 21, 2002. She said was trying to cook hotdogs when the fire blew out of control. Van Brunt also told authorities that she was smoking methamphetamine the night before.

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