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Caldor Fire 'reckless arson' suspects also face weapons charges, documents show

KCRA Sacramento logo KCRA Sacramento 12/10/2021
a tree in the middle of a forest: stretch of highway 50 closed because of caldor fire © KCRA stretch of highway 50 closed because of caldor fire

Officials on Thursday released the official complaint against the father and son arrested in connection with causing the Caldor Fire earlier this year in El Dorado County.

The court document released by the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office alleges that 32-year-old Travis Smith of Folsom and 66-year-old David Smith of Somerset "did unlawfully and recklessly set fire to and burn and cause to be burned a structure, forest land, or personal property and did cause great bodily injury."

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Both suspects received a felony charge of recklessly causing the Caldor Fire, which forced unprecedented evacuations in El Dorado County and burned through miles of forest, all while destroying over a thousand structures and injuring five people. The two also received enhancement to their charges in relation to the injuries and structures destroyed.

Further, Travis received a felony weapons charge for unlawfully and intentionally converting "a firearm into a machine gun or knowingly manufacture a machine gun" sometime between Aug. 9 and Aug. 14, according to the document. Both he and David also received a felony weapons charge for unlawfully possessing a silencer for firearms sometime between Aug. 11 and Sept. 23.

It remains unclear how the weapons charges are related to causing the fire, but their "reckless arson" charges still stand.

David and Travis are expected to appear in court this Friday.

Attorney Mark Reichel, who represents the suspects, argues the case is not that cut and dry.

"Without hesitation, I say these people are 100% innocent,” Reichel said.

Reichel tells KCRA 3, he believes David and Travis Smith had nothing to do with the Caldor Fire, adding that they called 911 when they saw the flames and warned nearby campers.

"There's no evidence whatsoever that they've done it accidentally. It's just a theory. It's just a theory,” Reichel said.

He added the Smiths have lived in the area their entire lives and have never been accused of a crime.


Video: Raw: House Fire In Fair Oaks (CBS Sacramento)

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Each suspect is being held on a $1 million bail, the district attorney's office said. Reichel tells KCRA 3 he wants to reduce that amount, so he and his clients can begin preparing for upcoming court proceedings.

"It doesn’t change anything for a lot of us," said Jodi Lauther, a Grizzly Flats resident on the arrest of the suspects. "We still lost our houses. It doesn’t bring our houses back. It doesn’t bring our memories back."

The Caldor Fire, which started Aug. 14 east of Omo Ranch and south of the community of Grizzly Flats, burned 221,835 acres and actively burned for over two months, according to Cal Fire.

It wouldn't be until Oct. 21 when firefighters fully contained the wildfire. With complete containment, that means crews established barriers around the fire's perimeter, whether by manmade means such as trenches and backburns or through natural means like rivers and terrain fire can't spread through.

Crews had managed to spare most communities from the path of the fire, but the Caldor Fire managed to tear through much of the community of Grizzly Flats. Residents are rebuilding, but many have had to relocate after losing their homes.

"It may not have been on purpose," said resident Katie Thomas on the starting of the fire. "It may have been a complete accident, but honestly, I don’t care. My house is gone."

While not the largest wildfire this year, this one forced the entire city of South Lake Tahoe to evacuate. The last time residents in the city were evacuated was from the Angora Fire in 2007, but the evacuations then were not as large-scale as this year.

Orko Manna and Stephanie Lin contributed to this reporting.

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