Charges dismissed in Caldor Fire ignition

Vehicles from those evacuating and others trying to get to Lake Tahoe clog Kingsbury Grade on Aug. 30, 2021.

Vehicles from those evacuating and others trying to get to Lake Tahoe clog Kingsbury Grade on Aug. 30, 2021.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

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Charges were dismissed against a father and son accused of starting the Caldor fire in 2021.

Attorneys Mark Reichel and Linda Parisi said the charges against the Shane and David Smith were dismissed on Dec. 29, 2023, in El Dorado County Superior Court following a 4.5-day preliminary hearing.

“The evidence produced solely by the prosecution at the preliminary hearing showed that

the Smiths saw the fire, tried to put it out, took great pains to warn local campers about the fire,

then called 911,” Reichel told The Record-Courier. “They kept trying 911 until they got to the right agency.”

Reichel said that the Smiths cooperated with investigators into the cause of the fire saying what they observed.

“There had been others— not the Smiths— at the site of the fire origin who had

been shooting guns earlier that morning, as well as the night before, and in the days before,” Reichel said. “Again, this was not the Smiths, who did not get to the area of the fire’s origin until minutes before the fire was observed at 6 p.m. that day. The expert for the prosecution could only testify that it was ‘possible’ that the Smiths started the fire with gunshots.”

Reichel said the judge found there was only a single study into bullets causing a wildland fire in 2013 where a bullet hit a rock outcrop and caused a spark.

“The prosecution’s evidence showed substantial shooting by others in the hours and days before the Smiths were even in the area,” Reichel said. “The judge found that the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution did not make it probable that the Smith's were the cause of the fire.”

The Caldor Fire broke out on Aug. 14, 2021, on the middle fork of the Consumes near Grizzly Flat on the West Slope.

The fire burned along the Highway 50 corridor for almost two weeks before cresting Echo Summit and threatening South Lake Tahoe.

The fire burned down to the edge of South Lake Tahoe and prompted an evacuation on both sides of the state line, including the first mandatory evacuation in Douglas County history.

“The defense did not put on a case but instead simply questioned the prosecution's witnesses,” Reichel said.

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