"Today Mark Torchi pleaded guilty on charges of allowing fire to spread to another's land and failure to notify the SC Forestry Commission about an outdoor debris burn. While much attention has been paid to this case due to the subsequent Highway 31 Fire, it is important to remember that the charges made against Mr. Torchi (in the form of two tickets) and today's trial relate only to the debris burn he conducted on his property on 4/18/2009. Mr. Torchi at no time has been held criminally responsible for the larger wildfire. Today's verdict finds him guilty solely for those offences for which he was ticketed, not the Highway 31 Fire."
The SCFC responded to the SC-31 fire on April 22 and began investigating the cause. Investigators used witness statements and wildfire spread indicators to document that Torchi lit an illegal backyard fire on April 18, which spread onto the adjoining property.
According to dispatch records, the SCFC said, Torchi failed to notify them before conducting the outdoor burn as required by law.
"Based on wildland fire spread indicators, the Forestry Commission believes that the Highway 31 fire that the agency responded to on April 22 originated from the debris burn lit by Torchi on April 18," said SCFC spokesman Scott Hawkins in a press release. "It is not uncommon for wildfires, especially fires occurring in areas with heavy amounts of fuel, to rekindle at a later time when relative humidity drops and windspeed increases."