Judge bars Roatcap arsonist from using fire

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 11:42 PM

Convicted of starting the 2012 Roatcap Fire, Roger "Bucky" Stratton was instructed to never use fire again. Ever.

"I'm taking fire away from you," District Court Judge Todd Plewe told the convicted arsonist.

At a sentencing hearing on Thursday, Jan. 23, the 54-year-old Dolores man was placed on supervised probation for five years. The "most important condition" of the probation order, according to Plewe, bars Stratton from ever attending an outdoor fire, permitting an outdoor fire at his residence, burning trash, disposing of ashes or using a wood stove for warmth.

"We live in arid country," Plewe said. "Your behavior is reckless and endangers the lives and properties of others."

"You're the type of person that shouldn't have fire," he continued. "That's it."

Facing more than four decades in prison, Stratton pleaded guilty to both felony and misdemeanor arson charges on Nov. 21, 2013. The Oct. 24, 2012, Roatcap fire scorched some 400 acres and forced the evacuation of 30 homes. No injuries were reported.

As a result of the plea deal, Stratton will not serve time behind bars. He was instructed to complete a mental health evaluation, refrain of any drug or alcohol use and ordered to pay more than $4,000 in court fines and costs. Stratton was also ordered to pay restitution that totals more than $45,000 for losses sustained by private property owners.

But Plewe questioned the total restitution amount last week, and ordered District Attorney Will Furse to amend the request to include public funds that were spent to battle the blaze. Following a defense counsel request, a restitution hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 14.

"It's my duty as a judge to make all victims whole," Plewe said.

While delivering his sentence, Plewe told Stratton that he was incapable of accepting responsibility for his actions. Stratton immediately interrupted Plewe, telling the judge that his assertions were untrue.

"This has been a pure nightmare," he said. "The accusations are wrong. It's just unfair."

At Plewe's recommendation, public defender Amy Smith quickly advised Stratton not to make any further remarks. In her opening statement, Smith claimed that her client did not intentionally cause the fire.

"Mr. Stratton sincerely does not know how this fire occurred," she said.

Furse didn't agree, stating that Stratton's reckless conduct not only placed the community in danger, but it also destroyed the natural landscape for decades to come. Despite the harm caused, Furse said he thought the sentence was appropriate.

"The plea deal strikes a balance between punishment, rehabilitation and justice," he said.