Idaho prisoner helping fight fire in Utah accused of rape

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - An Idaho prisoner sent to help fight a wildfire in Utah raped a woman who also was working to support firefighters, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The woman had rejected several advances from Ruben Hernandez, 27, in the days before the Aug. 29 assault at the base camp, Sanpete County attorney Kevin Daniels said. Hernandez has been charged with felony rape.

Hernandez was in Utah as part of a program similar to those run in other Western states such as California, where hundreds of minimum-security inmates fought on the front lines of the state's largest-ever blaze this year.

Hernandez was part of a 10-person crew that cooked, cleaned and did other support work at the base camp about 80 miles (129 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City, Daniels said.

Inmates are typically allowed to move about fairly freely, Daniels said. Hernandez doesn't have a history of assault or similar crimes, he said.

Inmates released for wildfire work are usually low-level offenders nearing parole dates, Daniels said.

"Historically, there's not been a whole 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 left for one of his previous attorneys was not immediately returned. He is being held without bail in Utah.

The woman told police Hernandez had been flirting with her and asked for her number, and she gave him a friend's husband's contact information to get him to leave her alone, according to charging documents filed Friday.

One morning as she was sitting in a wash trailer watching a movie, Hernandez came inside, exposed himself and asked for oral sex. He assaulted her after she again rejected him, according to charging documents.

She froze, afraid to scream or stop him because she knew he was a prisoner and didn't want to get hurt, the charges say. She told a friend, who reported the assault to base-camp security 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 wildfires a decade ago after men got injured, Daniels said.

Like many wildfires, the so-called Coal Hollow Fire was managed by a special team of federal and state agencies, so county authorities weren't aware that Idaho inmates were part of the force of about 200 at the time of the assault.

The lightning-sparked blaze started Aug. 4 and torched about 47 square miles (122 square kilometers). It's now about 80 percent contained.