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California man accused of starting wildfire turned firearm into machine gun, DA says

The details were included in a criminal complaint filed Thursday.
Image: Caldor FIre
Flames from the Caldor Fire leap along a hillside above Christmas Valley, near South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Aug. 30.Noah Berger / AP file

A man who is accused along with his father of starting a wildfire that scorched more than 200,000 acres near South Lake Tahoe earlier this year, allegedly converted a firearm into a machine gun, court documents filed Thursday claim.

The details, from a criminal complaint filed in El Dorado County Superior Court, were released one day after the local district attorney's office announced that Travis Smith, 32, and David Smith, 66, had been arrested on suspicion of reckless arson.

According to the complaint, Travis Smith was charged with one count of machine gun conversion. He was also charged with having a silencer, a crime in California.

Travis and David Smith were charged with three counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury. The complaint didn't provide details about how they allegedly started it.

The Caldor Fire, which ignited on Aug. 14 and exploded across the Sierra Nevada mountains amid extreme drought conditions, intense heat and blistering winds, injured five people, including firefighters, and destroyed 1,000 structures.

Because of those injuries and other factors, including that the fire was started during a state of emergency, the Smiths face sentencing enhancements that could increase their penalties if convicted, according to the complaint.

It wasn't immediately clear if the alleged machine gun conversion played a role in starting the blaze.

The El Dorado County District Attorney's office said in a statement Thursday that it would not release additional information about the case. The pair are scheduled to be arraigned Friday in superior court.

Mark Reichel, a lawyer for the Smiths, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he said Wednesday that his clients are innocent.

"The DA is not saying it was intentional,” Reichel said. “We are saying we are 100 percent innocent. We’re saying they did not start it.”

He said the pair had been enjoying Eldorado National Forest when the fire began and they called 911 to report it.

Wildfires burned more than 2.5 million acres California in 2021, a near record in recent history topped only by 2020, when more than 8,000 fires scorched 4.1 million acres.

Experts have attributed the state's increasingly intense wildfire seasons to climate change and decades of forest management practices that allowed dense wildlands to flourish.