Preliminary Trial to Start for Men Who Allegedly Started California’s Caldor Fire

by Alex Falls
Europa Press News / Contributor / Getty

The father and son accused of sparking the Caldor Fire appeared in Placerville court on Sept. 30 and will have another appearance for preliminary examination on Oct. 11.

The Caldor Fire was one of the most devastating wildfires in the history of California. The fire started when a projectile was fired from a gun which hit a tree and led to a fire that spread 346 square miles before it could be put out. That’s about the size of the entire city of San Diego. Over one thousand buildings were destroyed, and the Sierra-At-Tahoe ski resort was severely damaged by the fires.

David and Travis Smith, ages 66 and 32 at the time of their arrests, face several charges for allegedly starting the fire. After nearly a year of pre-preliminary hearings, they will appear in court for the preliminary examination on Oct. 11. During the examination the prosecution will call witnesses to the stand, introduce evidence, and in turn, the defense can cross-examine witnesses. 

They are facing several charges. Including three felonies related to firearms. Travis Smith is facing two more felonies. One each for possession of a silencer and a machine gun conversion.

The DOJ website explains, “The defense cannot object to using certain evidence, and in fact, evidence is allowed to be presented at a preliminary hearing that could not be shown to a jury at trial.”

Once the hearing is completed the judge decides whether there is cause to believe the crime was committed by the defendant or not. If cause is not found a trial will occur. In the event the judge does not believe the evidence does not reach the level of probable cause, the defendant’s charges may be dismissed.

The Caldor Fire Destroyed A Huge Amount of Property

The Caldor Fire burned for two months. Scorching more than 200,000 acres and costing $271 million to put out. In September of 2021 Jack Cohen and Dave Strohmaier wrote about the Home Ignition Zone that creates the optimal conditions that foster these blazes with the smallest triggers.

“Surprisingly, research has shown that home ignitions during extreme wildfires result from conditions local to a home. A home’s ignition vulnerabilities in relation to nearby burning materials within 100 feet principally determine home ignitions. This area of a home and its immediate surroundings is called the home ignition zone (HIZ). Typically, lofted burning embers initiate ignitions within the HIZ – to homes directly and nearby flammables leading to homes. Although an intense wildfire can loft firebrands more than one-half mile to start fires. The minuscule local conditions where the burning embers land and accumulate determine ignitions. Importantly, most home destruction during extreme wildfires occurs hours after the wildfire has ceased intense burning near the community. The residential fuels – homes, other structures, and vegetation – continue fire spread within the community.”