Three children, each 11 years old, are likely to face fourth-degree arson charges after being suspected of starting a blaze that burnt 1.5 acres of land at McIntosh Lake near Longmont, Colorado on Sunday. Witnesses have said they spotted the children lighting various things in the area on fire prior to when cattails started burning, aiding in the rapid spread of this blaze.

Firefighters quickly arrived on the scene and contained the fire within an hour, but by then the natural area had already suffered quite a bit of damage.

In Colorado, fourth-degree arson is typically a class-4 felony, carrying two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000. Fourth-degree arson occurs when a person is endangered by fire that someone else starts. This fire can be intentional or result from reckless behavior. According to the Colorado Legal Defense Group, this charge may be downgraded to a misdemeanor if it’s determined that no one was endangered and less than $100 worth of damage occurred.

While the boys are suspected of starting the blaze, the question in court will likely be whether or not creating any sort of significant burn was intentional, as well as whether or not the lighting of the cattails was intentional. Cattails are a quickly burning fuel source, which is thought to have aided to the rapid spread. The monetary value of the damage is also still to-be-determined, which will likely impact whether or not the charge is a felony or misdemeanor.

This incident shows the importance of properly educating children on fire safety practices. While this blaze was quickly shut down, the next one might not be. For instance, take the recent wildfires in Oregon. One blaze that reached 48,000 acres was started by a teen using fireworks in an unsafe manner. That teen was eventually ordered to pay $36 million in damages.

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