Rodrigo Ulloa-Esquivel, 29, the El Paso man accused of causing the [auth] Last Chance Fire in Lincoln National Forest, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of leaving the forest unattended Friday morning. In Las Cruces federal court, Ulloa-Esquivel pleaded guilty to count two of a three-count indictment charging him with the misdemeanor offense for leaving a fire unattended.
According to a press release about the plea, U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales said that Ulloa-Esquivel was indicted on Aug. 17, 2011, on criminal offenses arising out of a wildfire that burned through the Last Chance Canyon of the Lincoln National Forest in Eddy County, otherwise known as the Last Chance Fire, in late April and early May of 2011.
On April 24, 2011, Ulloa-Esquivel admitted, in his plea agreement, that he lit toilet paper on fire near a campsite at the Last Chance Canyon in the area known as the Guadalupe Ranger District in the Lincoln National Forest despite his knowledge of the fire restrictions in place for that area. At the time, the wind was blowing so hard that sparks from the burning toilet paper spread beyond Ulloa-Esquivel’s ability to control the fire. After Ulloa-Esquivel and his friends tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire, they left the area without calling the U.S. Forest Service or local authorities to report the fire. Ulloa-Esquivel also admitted initially denying knowledge of the fire or that he caused the fire, but later admitted to U.S. Forest Service personnel that he started the fire, according to the press release.
At sentencing, Ulloa-Esquivel faces a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. His sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled. Ulloa-Esquivel remains on conditions of release until his sentencing hearing.
U.S. Forest Service reports stated the Last Chance Fire burned for several days and was declared controlled on May 9, 2011. The fire consumed 53,342 acres and caused damage to four structures in the Sitting Bulls Falls Recreation area located in the Lincoln National Forest, according to the press release. The initial estimated cost of suppressing the fire is $2.3 million. The initial estimate to repair the damages to structures in the recreational area is $67,500.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office. The case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service with support from the National Park Service and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office. The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Queen Volunteer Fire Department participated in the fire suppression effort.