FRESNO — Criminal charges were dropped against a bow hunter accused of starting one of California's largest wildfires, a blaze that burned parts of Yosemite National Park, federal prosecutors said Friday.
The decision came after two key witnesses unexpectedly died within months of an indictment that was handed down last year against Matthew Emerald, prosecutors said.
The 33-year-old California man was accused of starting the Rim Fire in August 2013. The blaze burned for two months, scorching 400 square miles, destroying 11 homes and costing $125 million to fight. It ranks as California's third-largest wildfire and the largest in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada.
Prosecutors said that without testimony from the two witnesses, they did not believe they could prove the allegations to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt. Previous statements made by the two witnesses can't be used in court, prosecutors said.
"I understand that the government's motion to dismiss will be frustrating to some," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a statement, thanking U.S. Forest Service investigators for their work. "It is our obligation to the defendant and to the court to dismiss that case."