Judge orders man charged in massive Brian Head fire to trial

Brian Head fire, as seen from state Route 143 near Panguitch Lake, Garfield County, Utah, June 27, 2017 | File photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

PROVO (AP) — A man charged with reckless burning that sparked the massive 2017 Brian Head fire in Southern Utah was ordered Tuesday to stand trial.

Judge James Brady ruled there was enough evidence for the misdemeanor case against Robert Lyman, 63, to proceed, KUTV reported.

The retired teacher and basketball coach from Taylorsville is charged with reckless burning and burning without a permit in the fire that destroyed 13 homes.

If convicted, he could face jail time and be held liable for the nearly $40 million cost of fighting the fire near Brian Head.

Authorities said Lyman cut down trees as a way to protect his cabin near the ski town from fire then burned the debris.

The blaze lit with charcoal lighter quickly burned out of control, eventually blackening more than 110 square miles, authorities said.

Defense attorney Andrew Deiss has argued that forest mismanagement made the area more wildfire-prone and a flawed firefighting effort allowed it to burn longer.

Robert Ray Lyman, 61, appears in 5th District Court in Ceder City for one of his initial appearances related to the Brian Head fire he is accused of starting in June 2017, Ceder City, Utah, Aug. 15, 2017 | File photo by Utah court pool, St. George News

Ryan Riddle with the Utah Department of Natural Services, Division of Forestry testified Tuesday that he was first on the scene on June 17, 2017, after Lyman and a passerby called 911.

Riddle saw flames 100 feet (30 meters) high when he arrived. One cabin had already burned to the ground and another was severely damaged, he said.

He issued evacuation orders.

“There was a threat to life safety,” he said.

Lyman did not have a permit, and another property owner who did ask for a permit later withdrew his request because he felt uncomfortable burning due to the high fire risk, Riddle said.

Fire investigator Dan Barnes testified that Lyman’s burn piles appeared bigger than he initially reported, and his hose and buckets of water weren’t enough preparation in case the fire grew out of control.

The case was previously transferred out of Iron County after the defense successfully argued that local anger about the fire would prevent Lyman from getting a fair trial.

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