A Springdale photographer has been charged in federal court with seven misdemeanors in connection with fires federal authorities claim he started at two national parks.
Michael Fatali, 36, was charged Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City with criminal activity including injuring or defacing mineral resources in a national park, unauthorized fire in a national park and aiding and abetting. Each of the seven counts could mean up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine if Fatali is convicted.
Fatali had been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office since September 2000 in connection with fires deliberately set at Delicate Arch, one of Utah's most recognized natural treasures. He has also been charged in connection with fires at Horsehoof Arch and the Joint Trail Needles District in Canyonlands National Park in 1997, according to court documents.
Investigators believe Fatali set the fires to use for effect while photographing the famous sandstone arch, which is the backdrop of some Utah license plates. In an e-mail message sent in November 2000 to members of the photography community, Fatali apologized for what happened, saying he "seriously regretted" the incident. "I simply screwed up," the message said.
On the morning of Sept. 19, 2000, park visitors reported to rangers that fires had been set in the area around Delicate Arch. Investigators determined that the fires had been deliberately set the night before, and that three fires resulted in scorching and discoloration of the sandstone, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Officials removed some of the scorches immediately, but remaining scars from the fire could not be removed because an oily or waxy stain had penetrated into the rock, the news release states. National park investigators say it may cost more than $16,000 to restore the damaged arches.
Investigators say Fatali told members of a photo workshop group that was with him at the park to collect wood to build the fire.
Delicate Arch is a free-standing, four-story arch that stands on the rim of a deep canyon in Arches National Park with the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop to the southeast.
Thousands of visitors to Arches National Park visit Delicate Arch and make the 1.5-mile hike to the arch each year, according to the news release.
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