$20 mln cigarette starts forest fire

RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev
Possibly the most expensive cigarette ever. An unemployed man in the Russian republic of Buryatia has been fined over 580 million roubles – that’s close to $20 million - for starting a massive forest fire from a carelessly chucked cigarette butt.

­Three years ago, 19-year-old Aleksandr Malkov was strolling through the fields with two friends. After a relaxing cigarette, he flicked the butt into the dry grass, which started smoldering. His friends noticed, but didn’t report it. Erupting into a huge blaze, the fire destroyed 2,000 hectares of forest.

It took two years to bring the case to court. The Prosecutor’s Office of Buryatia told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily how a painstaking probe managed to show that only three people had walked through the field that day and just one was smoking.

The young men admit they should have reported the fire: they claim they didn’t realize that they risked a jail sentence. Besides the hefty fine, Malkov will go to prison for a year, although he can still appeal.