LOS ANGELES – A father and son have been arrested on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, a massive blaze that burned dangerously near Lake Tahoe this year and caused residents of the resort region to flee.
The El Dorado County district attorney’s office said Wednesday that David Scott Smith, 66, and Travis Shane Smith, 32, had been charged with “reckless arson” in connection with a wildfire that swept through over 220,000 acres as of mid-August. .
The men, who are being held on $ 1 million bail each, have yet to be charged with a crime.
Mark Reichel, a Sacramento attorney, said the Smiths had hired him in August after they searched their homes and phones and were puzzled by the suggestion that they had started the fire.
“My clients and I have literally sat down and waited for this day to come,” Reichel said. “As we sit here tonight, we have no idea what the prosecution’s theory is about how the fire started.”
The district attorney’s office did not provide details about what the men were accused of doing, and the US Forest Service, which assisted with the investigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reichel said his clients had been to the Eldorado National Forest for recreation when they saw a fire. They called 911 multiple times because their calls kept dropping, he said, and he also warned other campers about the fire.
“They are from the area,” he said. “They love the forest and nature.”
As Labor Day weekend approached, the Caldor fire forced thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate, drowning the blue Tahoe region in acrid smoke. Ski resorts were covered in fire retardant and beaches were deserted.
The fire, which caused no deaths, destroyed about 1,000 structures.
Lightning has sparked a growing number of fires in remote areas, sparking frantic evacuations and sparking debates about how to prevent and fight runaway fires. Still, many of the largest, deadliest, and most destructive fires in California in recent years have been started directly or indirectly by humans.
In particular, Pacific Gas and Electric, the state’s largest utility company, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of 84 people killed in the 2018 Camp fire, the deadliest in California history. The company did not maintain its equipment, which broke and started the fire.
That same year, a rancher hammered a metal stake into his yard to try to put out a hornet’s nest and ignited the Ranch Fire, which was part of the Mendocino Complex, the third largest known fire in the state.
About 10 percent of wildfires in California are set on purpose, according to Cal Fire, the state’s largest fire agency. This summer, a criminology professor was among several people accused by officials of arson in a series of incidents in Northern California.
The Caldor fire was the 15th largest in California’s recorded history, reinforcing what experts have described as a terrifying trend. Climate change has made large swaths of the West warmer and drier, fueling an extreme weather cycle. Regardless of how wildfires are started, they burn faster and are more difficult to control.