Millard County Halfway Hill Fire grew moderate overnight, Millard County, UT, July 9, 2022 | Photo by Utah Fire Information, St. George News
ST. GEORGE — The Halfway Hill fire near Fillmore burned nearly 12,000 acres and now the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is urging Millard County to charge the four men allegedly arrested in connection with the wildfire with cruelty to animals.
In a July 19 press release, PETA announced that it had sent a letter to Millard County attorney Patrick S. Finlinson requesting that Michael Joseph Patti, Darri Rae DeWolfe, Claw Lance Kessler, and Tyler Russell Smith be charged with animal cruelty. , in addition to any criminal charges they may currently face.
“(The fire) has already destroyed nearly 12,000 acres and has undoubtedly resulted in countless animals being burned to death,” the release said.
The letter, written by Sarah Deffinger, the organization’s Senior Evidence Analyst, says the fire caused animals to “suffer and die painfully,” and that it “must be recognized as a violation of Utah’s animal protection laws.
The organization used Utah Code 76-9-301 to defend its case, citing the section stating that a person is guilty of animal cruelty if they “recklessly or with criminal negligence…injure an animal,” and a person who “kills an animal or causes an animal to be killed without being legally authorized to do so” is guilty of aggravated animal cruelty.
“While no people died, the sheer number of wildlife that lived on the nearly 12,000 acres of land burned by the fire was undoubtedly less fortunate,” Deffinger wrote. “Such catastrophic fires cause terror and suffering in many animals and cause them to suffer prolonged, painful deaths.”
In addition, Deffinger said prosecutors in California and Oregon added animal cruelty to the charges faced by offenders in similar cases, resulting in convictions.
The group wants “those responsible to be charged,” PETA vice president Daniel Paden said in the release
Deffinger said the fire caused serious injuries and death to an “uncountable number of animals”. Because this situation did not fit the description of Utah’s wildlife exemption for those who legally hunt, fish or trap, the four men alleged to have started the fire would be subject to animal cruelty, she wrote.
Nicole Meyer, spokeswoman for PETA, said the organization was made aware of the matter as it routinely monitored news reports of man-made wildfires.
In the short term, Meyer said PETA hopes prosecutors will thoroughly review cases of animals killed or injured by the Halfway Hill fire and file “appropriate criminal charges” and said Millard County should take the next steps.
“Killing a single animal by setting it on fire or suffocating it with smoke is cruel and illegal,” she said. “If this were done to a single dog or cat, the public would rightly be outraged and would likely be charged. The animals that undoubtedly died in this fire felt the pain of being burned alive or suffocated, and they deserve the same protection under the law.”
PETA also said that while it’s too late to save the animals that died in this wildfire, the public could help reduce climate change and the increased wildfire risk associated with it by going vegan, Meyer said, adding that interested parties can Free vegan appetizer kit can be ordered from the organization’s website.
In addition, Meyer said citizens who want to support the affected animals can donate or volunteer with local wildlife rehabilitators.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources provides a list of local wildlife rehabilitators, which you can find here.
St. George News contacted Finlinson, who said he had no comment at this time.
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