Firefighters approach the Maple Fire in Mason County in 2018 as a helicopter in the distance drops water on the blaze. (State Department of Natural Resources)

Firefighters approach the Maple Fire in Mason County in 2018 as a helicopter in the distance drops water on the blaze. (State Department of Natural Resources)

Poacher burned bees nest in tree, started 3,300-acre wildfire

The Hood Canal man pleaded guilty for his role in the 2018 Maple Fire on the Olympic Peninsula.

Associated Press

BREMERTON — A man involved in a timber poaching effort in Olympic National Forest that started a big wildfire has been sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Shawn Williams, 49, pleaded guilty to theft of public property and setting timber afire charges in U.S. District Court in December 2019, The Kitsap Sun reported.

Williams and Justin Wilke were charged last year for their roles in an illegal logging operation in the national forest in 2018 in which they and others felled maple trees and sold the wood to lumber mills, according to court documents. The type of maple is highly prized and used to produce musical instruments, prosecutors said.

Williams, who lived in the Hood Canal area, cut the felled trees into rounds or blocks and sold them to a Tumwater mill under the false pretense that the wood had been cut on private land under permit, an indictment said.

The “figured wood” was cut near Lena Lake in Jefferson County and Elk Lake in Mason County and sold for about $13,400 in the months leading up to the fire, court papers said.

A National Guard helicopter douses the Maple Fire in 2018. (Washington Department of Natural Resources)

A National Guard helicopter douses the Maple Fire in 2018. (Washington Department of Natural Resources)

On Aug. 3, 2018, Wilke, Williams and an unknown person listed as “Person 2” in the indictment found a figured maple near the Elk Lake lower trailhead.

They determined that a bees’ nest made it “difficult or impossible” to fell the tree.

“After unsuccessfully attempting to remove the bees with wasp killer, Wilke, Williams and Person 2 agreed that Wilke would kill the bees by burning the nest,” the indictment said.

“Wilke poured gasoline onto the nest and lit the nest and tree on fire. Wilke, Williams and Person 2 unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the fire using water bottles.”

The blaze spread and grew to become the Maple Fire, which burned more than 3,300 acres between August and November 2018.

A U.S. Forest Service officer questioned Wilke about the fire and his timber-poaching activity Aug. 4, 2018, the indictment said.

“Wilke falsely told the law enforcement officer that he had not been cutting timber, did not have a chain saw, and did not know anything about the fire,” the indictment said.

“Wilke concealed his chain saw to prevent it from being discovered by investigators.”

In a statement filed with the court this month, Williams was apologetic and said he had gotten involved in the tree cutting for money to travel home to California after his release from prison that summer.

The Peninsula Daily News, a sister publication to The Herald, contributed to this story.

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