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Fri, April 03

Former park official charged

PHOENIX, Ariz. - A man who formerly worked as a fire information officer at Grand Canyon was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office for starting a fire near Crown King last year that forced the evacuation of the entire community and burned down several homes.

David Alexander Cygan, 52, of Yuma, faces five charges relating to purposely igniting a signal fire and a warming fire on the Prescott National Forest on June 28, 2008, when fire restrictions were in effect because of the extreme danger.

Impersonation

Cygan also impersonated a federal employee during the incident, according to the federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The U.S. Attorney also charged Cygan with unlawful use of the federal badge, which Cygan allegedly showed the federal investigator. The complaint says the investigator then contacted the Park Service and found out that agency "terminated" Cygan from his Park Service job on Jan. 31, 2007.

The complaint states that Cygan showed a Grand Canyon National Park badge to another camper south of Crown King named Angela Tarango and told her he was a park employee who had conducted numerous searches and rescues.

Cygan then offered to search for Tarango's boyfriend and children who had not returned to camp that day from a hike. She already had reported them missing to authorities, who knew that Cygan started the fire since they rescued him June 29.

Lost

After finding the others, Cygan told the Forest Service investigator that he became lost while trying to find more help and supplies by himself, according to the complaint.

Then he lit a signal fire as well as a warming fire in a steep canyon below Crown King. He left the fires unattended while he went to get water from a nearby cabin, he told the investigator. When he returned, the warming fire had grown out of control, he said.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter pilot saw Cygan lighting the fires June 28, according to the complaint.

"The actions of this single male subject caused concern for the DPS helicopter, prompting them to leave the area in fear that the subject would continue to ignite fires in an attempt to gain their attention," the complaint states.

By the time firefighters put an end to the Lane 2 fire on July 14, it had burned across 9,629 acres at a cost of $5.3 million. It torched five homes, a sawmill and 12 outbuildings while forcing the evacuation of Crown King residents and visitors. The former mining town of about 250 residents is nestled in the pine forest of the Prescott National Forest about 20 miles south of Prescott.

The lost boyfriend, Jeffery Rasmussen of Phoenix, also started a fire while he was lost, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, which organized the search for the lost campers. That was the Lane 1 fire, which firefighters were able to extinguish within a day.

The U.S. Attorney's Office couldn't confirm Monday whether Rasmussen will face any charges.

Fire victims

Mike Colt, who lost his home in the Lane 2 fire, said victim compensation would be nice. His insurance didn't cover all of his losses, and his brother lost a home that had no insurance. That home was under construction and nearly complete.

Colt said federal officials invited them to Phoenix a few weeks ago to let them know that charges against Cygan were pending, but restitution was unlikely because of Cygan's finances.

"Jail time might be nice for him too, but they probably won't do that either," Colt said.

"I just figure there's not much they can do, but whatever they can do is fine," added Colt, who owns the historic Crown King Saloon with his wife, Dawn.

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