TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Five people, including a former senior employee of the National Communications Commission (NCC), should pay a record NT$228.59 million (US$8.17 million) to compensate for a fire that destroyed 70 hectares of forest near the country’s tallest peak, the Forestry Bureau said Wednesday (Aug. 25).
Five hikers, including NCC Senior Specialist Joseph Chiao (喬建中), were accused of having started the fire at Yushan National Park, which took 12 days to extinguish last May. Chiao initially claimed that he had started the blaze accidentally by tripping over a gas stove while preparing a meal at a campsite.
However, an investigation by the Nantou District Prosecutors Office showed they had picked up and sawed off pieces of wood to make a fire, which then caused the disaster, the Liberty Times reported.
If found guilty, the hikers could face a maximum of seven years in prison, but the Forestry Bureau has also decided to file for compensation totaling NT$228.59 million, the highest amount of money ever listed in such a case. The previous record was NT$160.4 million in the case of the Dajia Creek forest fire in Taichung in 2001, according to the bureau. The court later decided to award NT$20 million in that case.
It took 12 days with 83 helicopter flights, 910 people, and 160 tons of water to extinguish the Yushan blaze in May, during which the nation was in the middle of a severe drought. As the fire not only required a massive human emergency effort but also destroyed land and damaged the local ecology, the level of compensation demanded was higher than the minimum of NT$100 million originally mentioned by officials.
The Forestry Bureau also warned that thanks to the development of modern technology, finding how a fire started and who was responsible had become much easier. Two forest blazes in Pingtung County had also been solved recently and the suspects nabbed, the bureau said.