Father, Son Arrested in California's Raging Caldor Wildfire That Scorched 221k Acres

A father and son were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of starting the massive Caldor wildfire over the summer, an inferno in El Dorado County, California, that burned over 221,000 acres of land.

David Scott Smith, 66, and Travis Shane Smith, 32, were taken into custody on suspicion of reckless arson, El Dorado County authorities said. Though the pair have not been formally charged, they were jailed via Ramey warrants, which are issued prior to the filing of criminal charges.

In the California penal code, reckless arson is a less severe charge than malicious arson. If the men do end up facing charges, the prosecution would only have to prove that their actions caused the blaze, not that they intentionally started it.

The El Dorado District Attorney's Office did not provide details on the accusation, or when the Smiths could be charged. They are currently being held on a reported $1 million bail each.

A lawyer hired for the pair in August, Mark Reichel, said in a statement that the Smiths did not understand why they were being accused.

"My clients and I have literally just sat and waited for this day to come," Reichel stated. "As we sit here tonight, we have no idea what the prosecution's theory is on how the fire started."

Reichel added that the pair had simply been in the area of the fire because they loved being out in nature.

Caldor Fire
Authorities have arrested a father and son, accusing them of causing the massive Caldor wildfire in California that burned over 200,000 acres of land. Here, the fire can be seen burning in August. Josh Edelson/Getty

Authorities stated that the Caldor wildfire began near Eldorado National Park on August 14. The Smiths had seen the fire and called 911 while also warning others to leave the area, according to Reichel.

While it started as a slow-moving and small burn, the blaze would spiral out of control within the course of a few days, and soon covered 30,000 acres of land. At its height, the Caldor fire would become the 15th largest wildfire in the state's history.

The inferno became so bad that President Joe Biden flew out to California to provide federal assistance.

Firefighters from across the state were eventually able to contain the blaze at the end of October, but not before significant damage was done. By the time the embers were extinguished, 221,835 acres were burned, and over 1,000 buildings or structures were damaged, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

While nobody died in the fire, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the evacuation of a number of nearby towns as the fire progressed. This included South Lake Tahoe, the most populous city in El Dorado County, whose 22,000 people were all ordered to flee.

This led to thousands of people being temporarily displaced from their homes as the fire continued to spread.

The Caldor fire reportedly became the first inferno, along with the nearby Dixie fire, to burn across the entire Sierra Nevada mountain range.

2021 saw a number of massive wildfires break out during California's drought season, and officials called the infernos "unprecedented."

Newsweek has reached out to the U.S. Forest Service for comment.