Santa Maria man cited in major Alaskan wildfire

A 60-year-old Santa Maria man has been cited for failing to exercise due care in preventing the Caribou Hills wildfire from spreading, a misdemeanor.

Charles Partridge Jr. and his wife Candice were preparing to build a cabin for their son and his fiancee on land donated by the bride’s mother, Vicki Steik, of Homer.

The fire began when Partridge was using a handheld grinder to remove plastic coating from a new shovel. Sparks fell into dry grass, eventually blossoming into a nearly 90-square-mile fire.

Alaska Division of Forestry investigator Sharon Roesch said she decided to charge him after she consulted the Kenai Peninsula district attorney’s office.

The charge allows the state to recoup a portion of the firefighting expenses, which have exceeded $3.9 million. The penalty frequently is adjusted according to an offender’s ability to pay.

Roesch learned last week that the couple had tried to swat the fire out using the shovel and clothing, but were forced to higher ground when they were unable to stop the fire’s advance.

Charles Partridge received minor burns when he tipped over a tractor and was briefly pinned before a state helicopter flew the two to safety.

“They’re not having a very good vacation,” Roesch said.

Partridge is scheduled to be arraigned in Kenai on July 20.

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