RUTHERFORD COUNTY — A 17-year-old faces two misdemeanor charges of negligently setting, or causing to be set, a wildfire that grew to consume nearly 7,000 acres in Lake Lure and the surrounding area last year.
Aaron Rolls, 17, has been charged in connection with the Party Rock Fire in November that also burned forest land in Chimney Rock Village and Bat Cave, Lake Lure officials said in a news release on the town's website.
Rolls made his first appearance in a Rutherford County Superior Court earlier this week, after being served by District Attorney Ted Bell with a criminal summons in July.
Rolls is facing charges for allegedly “negligently setting or causing to be set on fire of any woods, land or fields in any county under the protection of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources.”
For over four weeks in November, the fire burned 2,489 acres on state park property and 4,653 acres on private property, according to the release. Firefighting costs are estimated at $7 million.
Rolls has applied for a court-appointed lawyer and attorney Brian Oglesby was assigned the case.
“Under North Carolina law, someone who starts a wildfire can only be charged with a felony of it is intentionally set or if it ends up burning a building or results in a serious injury," Bell says in the release.
If it only burns brushlands or woodlands or was negligently started, then it can only be charged as a misdemeanor, no matter how much damage it does.
“Because of the excellent work by all of the people involved in fighting this fire, there was no damage to any buildings and no one was injured, and the evidence is it was negligently set,” Bell says.
However, under North Carolina law, the defendant may be sued by the property owners whose land was damaged by the fire.
“The Party Rock fire presented our area with some tremendous challenges,” Lake Lure Mayor Bob Keith says in the release. "There remains certainly a great deal of interest in the investigation, but we are fully confident in our state and local law enforcement officials to work through the court process in this matter.”
Rolls is scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause hearing on Aug. 30.
The investigation into the Party Rock Fire continues.