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Timber thieves started Olympic National Forest fire last year, charges say

An indictment unsealed Monday says Justin Wilke and Shawn Williams were trying to steal a big leaf maple tree in August 2018.

TACOMA, Wash. — Editor's note: The above video previously aired on KING 5 when the Maple Fire was burning in 2018.

Federal prosecutors say timber thieves were to blame for a fire in Washington's Olympic National Forest last year.

An indictment unsealed Monday says Justin Wilke and Shawn Williams were trying to steal a big leaf maple tree in August 2018, but it had a bees nest. They decided to burn the nest with gasoline and then tried unsuccessfully to douse the fire with their water bottles.

Nearly 5.2 square miles (13.4 square kilometers) of public land burned.

Wilke was arrested Monday. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Williams is in custody in California. It was not immediately clear if either had a lawyer.

RELATED: Wildfire forces Olympic National Park trail closures, evacuations

The indictment said Wilke previously sold stolen maple blocks to a Tumwater mill for $13,000, falsely representing that the wood came from private land. The wood is prized for making instruments.

RELATED: Maple Fire spreads to 3,000 acres on Olympic Peninsula