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Idaho prisoner to help fight fires in Utah accused of rape

SALT LAKE CITY – An Idaho inmate sent to help fight a forest fire in Utah, raped a woman who also works in support of the fire brigade, the public prosecutor said on Tuesday.

The woman had rejected various developments in the field of Ruben Hernandez, 27, in the days before the Aug. 29 attack on the base camp, Sanpete County attorney Kevin Daniels said. Hernandez is charged with the crime of rape.

Hernandez was in Utah as part of a program that is similar to that in other Western states, such as California, where hundreds of minimum-security prisoners fought on the frontline of the state’s largest-ever blaze this year.

Hernandez was part of a 10-man crew who cooked, cleaned and other support activities at the base camp, approximately 80 miles (129 km) south of Salt Lake City, Daniels said.

The detainees are usually permitted to move fairly freely, Daniels said. Hernandez doesn’t have a history of abuse or similar crimes, he said.

Prisoners were released for the wildfire work are usually low-level offenders to almost parole dates, Daniels said.

“Historically, there is not a lot of problems. This is very, very atypical,” the prosecutor said.

No attorney was immediately listed for Hernandez in Utah court records, and a message for one of his previous lawyers was not immediately returned. He is being held without bail in Utah.

The woman told police Hernandez had been flirting with her and asked her number and she gave him a friend of the man’s contact information to him to let rest, according to charging documents filed Friday.

On a morning when she was sitting in a wash trailer to watch a movie, Hernandez came in, exposed himself and asked for oral sex. He abused her after she rejected him, according to charging documents.

She froze, afraid to shout or stop him because she knew that he was a prisoner and would not hurt him, the charges say. She told a friend, who reported the attack to the base camp of the guards.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

Hernandez would have been eligible for parole on a drug charge in less than a year, according to Idaho prison records.

Utah authorities stopped bringing state prisoners to work on forest fires, a decade ago, after the people were injured, Daniels said.

Like many forest fires, the so-called Coal Hollow Fire was managed by a special team of the federal and of the government, so county authorities were not aware that Idaho prisoners were part of a force of about 200 at the time of the attack.

The lightning-sparked blaze began Aug. 4 fire and about 47 square miles (122 square km). It is now about 80 percent contained.

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