AUSTIN (KXAN) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry's fury over wildfires could soon spark a debate with state lawmakers. On Monday, the governor said he would support steeper penalties for people found guilty of setting those blazes.
"I'd be more than willing to have a conversation in the Legislature for increasing the penalties for arson," Perry said. "I think that is one of the most heinous things people can do is to go start a fire."
In Texas, arson is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 30 years in a state prison, unless the fire involves a church or someone is hurt or killed. Then, the charge would increase to a first-degree felony, which could carry a life sentence.
"Having increased penalties, I can support," Perry said concerning a 100-acre fire set Sunday in south Austin. "Someone, I don't care if they're homeless or what, if they set a fire, the punishment needs to be stiff. You're talking about losing people's lives with these fires."
The Austin Fire Department said a homeless man, Michael Bernard Weathers, is being held in jail on a $50,000 bond for arson. Weathers has denied starting the fire, though he told police he left hot coals unattended while cooking food in a campfire.
Though this instance might not be intentional, a person can be charged with arson if they recklessly set a fire without considering the safety of other people or property. The Travis County fire destroyed 11 homes. 10 others were damaged.
Increasing the punishment for arson is something Perry first discussed last week during an aerial tour of west Texas wildfires. On Monday, he showed his intention of legislative action. Such a change likely would not affect conditions this wildfire season.
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