Caldor Fire shooters won’t go to trial

A judge ruled last week that there is insufficient evidence to take to trial the men arrested for allegedly starting the 2021 Caldor Fire, which burned more than 221,000 acres south of Lake Tahoe, California.

David Scott Smith, 66, and his son Travis “Shane” Smith, 32, were arrested and charged with reckless arson in December 2021, months after the start of the fire. The two were accused of violating section 452 of the California Penal Code, commonly referred to as “reckless arson,” which causes inhabited properties to burn and results in great bodily injury to multiple victims. This charge can be filed against someone who unintentionally starts a fire. Both David and Travis were held on a $1 million bail, the district attorney’s office said. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Travis and David Smith, suspects in Caldor Fire ignition.
Travis and David Smith, suspects in Caldor Fire ignition.

One firefighter was severely burned while assigned to the fire. Richard Gerety III of Patterson was on a four-person engine crew from West Stanislaus Fire when he fell into burning material. It was his tenth day on the fire. He suffered third-degree burns on his arms and hands and second-degree burns to his legs, said his wife, Jennifer Gerety.

Capital Public Radio reported that prosecutors said the two men started the fire “when a projectile discharged from a firearm and struck an object.” But El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Vicki Ashworth has ruled there was not enough evidence to move the case to trial. “As to reckless burning charges, the court found there was insufficient evidence to meet the legal requirements that the behavior was reckless,” said the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office.

The Caldor Fire burned for 67 days in El Dorado, Alpine, and Amador counties, destroying more than 1,000 structures and forcing 53,000 people from their homes. It was the second fire to burn across the crest of the Sierra Nevada in state history, the first being the Dixie Fire earlier in the summer of 2021.

The pair still face gun-related charges, Shane Smith for possession of a machine gun, and David Smith for possession of a silencer. They will be arraigned in February.

According to a CBS News report, the relevant law specifically states that a defendant’s behavior must be “reckless as defined in Penal Code section 450, requiring that an individual knows their actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk but consciously disregards that risk.” Prosecutors said they showed evidence that David and Thomas Smith drove out of a location where the Caldor Fire started, and they were shooting a gun on a day with dry conditions.

The USFS determined a bullet strike was the probable cause of the fire. Travis Smith will be arraigned on February 2 for possession of a machine gun, and David is scheduled to be in court the same day for arraignment on a charge of possessing a silencer.

Suspect fires handgun at airport in Idaho, firefighters flee

A 911 caller said the suspect was attempting to steal a helicopter

Map, Shoshone County Airport
Map, Shoshone County Airport. Wildfire Today / Google Earth.

On Saturday July 17, wildland firefighters at the Shoshone County Airport in Smelterville, Idaho 30 miles southeast of Coeur d’Alene, encountered a dangerous situation that is not covered in the dozens of training courses they take.

From the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office:

At approximately 5:52pm, Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) dispatch received a 911 call reporting an armed subject approaching fire personnel in their helicopter at the Shoshone County Airport in Smelterville Idaho. A second 911 caller reported the subject was attempting to steal a helicopter.

At the airport during this incident, there were between 30 to 70 fire fighter personnel present on scene due to the local active fires.

At approximately 5:57pm, a SCSO Deputy arrived on scene and quickly located the armed suspect (Oregon resident). The suspect then discharged a handgun several times into the ground and air as fire fighter personnel were fleeing the immediate area. The SCSO Deputy ordered the suspect to drop the weapon, he complied soon after and was taken into custody with the assistance of a 2nd SCSO Deputy and an Idaho State Police Trooper without further incident. Several other SCSO units and other law enforcement agencies arrived shortly after.

For clarification, NO law enforcement officers discharged a firearm and no one was injured during this incident.

The investigation is ongoing and no further information will be released at this time.

End of Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office report.

In the video below, the narrator says he’s at the Kellogg, Idaho airport. Kellogg is immediately east of Smelterville.

Map, Shoshone County Airport
Vicinity map, Shoshone County Airport. Google Earth.