State prison officials will meet with federal authorities to discuss the future of the highly acclaimed Utah State Prison firefighting unit, after an inmate assigned to the Yellowstone Park blaze was accused of sexually assaulting a female firefighter.
"It is unfortunate," said Warden Jeff Galli. "It's hard to say how this will affect the unit and how the federal authorities will respond. They are certainly within their rights not to invite us to any more federal lands fires."Utah State Prison inmate Roger Lopez, 33, Layton, was arraigned Thursday in Cheyenne, Wyo., on federal aggravated rape charges stemming from a Tuesday assault on a female firefighter in another unit, Galli said.
The incident occurred about 2 a.m. and was immediately reported to National Park Service police. Lopez was serving a Utah prison term for theft, forgery and theft by deception.
"If a teacher rapes a coed, you don't close the school," said Galli. "We've done a lot of good things over the years." The prison firefighting program has existed for more than 10 years.
In an unrelated incident, Utah inmate Sam Stevenson, 29, walked away from his firefighting unit Thursday and is still missing. That unit has been battling the Island Park, Idaho, blaze for about a month.
That crew had been staying in Pocatello's Holiday Inn when a routine head-count revealed Stevenson's absence. Stevenson was serving a 5-years-to-life sentence for aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.
Both firefighting crews were returned to the Utah State Prison following the separate incidents.
"It concerns me we would have these two serious incidents within a couple of days of each other," Galli said.