PETA wants alleged Millard County fire starters to face animal cruelty charges, urges public to go vegan

The Halfway Hill Fire in Millard County grew moderately overnight, Millard County, UT, July 9, 2022 | Photo by Utah Fire Information, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Halfway Hill fire near Fillmore has burned almost 12,000 acres, and now the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is urging Millard County to charge the four people reportedly arrested in connection to the wildfire with cruelty to animals.

Smoke rises from the ongoing Halfway Hill Fire in the mountains in Fishlake National Forest outside Fillmore, Utah, July 11, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Utah Fire Info, St. George News

In a news release issued July 19, PETA announced it sent a letter to Patrick S. Finlinson, the Millard County attorney, requesting that Michael Joseph Patti, Darri Rae DeWolfe, Talon Lance Kessler and Tyler Russell Smith be charged with cruelty to animals, in addition to any criminal charges they may currently face.

“(The fire) has already ravaged nearly 12,000 acres and undoubtedly caused countless animals to burn to death,” the release stated.

The letter, written by the organization’s Senior Evidence Analyst Sarah Deffinger, argues that the fire caused animals to “suffer and die painfully,” and that it “needs to be recognized as a violation of Utah’s animal protection laws.

The organization used Utah Code 76-9-301 to make its case, quoting the section that states that a person is guilty of cruelty to animals 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 having a legal privilege to do so” is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals.

“Although no humans lost their lives, the enormous number of wild animals who resided on the nearly 12,000 acres of land burned in the fire were undoubtedly less fortunate,” Deffinger wrote. “Such catastrophic fires inflict terror and suffering on many animals and cause them to endure prolonged, agonizing deaths.”

A squirrel in a tree, Dixie National Forest, date not specified | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

Additionally, Deffinger said that in similar cases, prosecutors in California and Oregon added animal cruelty to the charges offenders faced, which resulted in convictions.

The group wants “those responsible (to) face charges,” PETA Vice President Daniel Paden said in the release

Deffinger said that the fire caused serious injury and death to an “untold number of animals.” Because this situation did not fit the description of Utah’s wild animal exemption for those who lawfully hunt, fish or trap, the four individuals who allegedly caused the fire would qualify for cruelty-to-animals charges, she wrote.

Nicole Meyer, spokeswoman for PETA said the organization was alerted to the case while routinely monitoring news reports of human-caused wildfires

In the short term, Meyer said that PETA hopes prosecutors will thoroughly review instances of animals killed or injured by the Halfway Hill fire and file “appropriate criminal charges” and said the next steps are up to Millard County.

This file photo shows a mule deer among aspen trees, Fishlake National Forest, Utah, Aug. 5, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

“Killing a single animal by lighting them on fire or suffocating them with smoke is cruel and illegal,” she said. “If this were done to a single dog or a cat, the public would be rightfully outraged and felony charges would likely be filed. The animals who no doubt died in this fire felt the agony of burning alive or suffocating to death, and they deserve the same protections under the law.”

PETA also said that while it is too late to save the animals killed in this wildfire, the public can help mitigate climate change and the increased wildfire risk associated with it by going vegan, said Meyer, adding that those interested can order a free vegan starter kit at the organization’s website.

Additionally, Meyer said that citizens who wish to support affected animals can donate or volunteer with local wildlife rehabilitators.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources offers a list of local wildlife rehabilitators, which can be found here.

St. George News contacted Finlinson, who said he had no comment at this time.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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