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Friday, June 28, 2013

Timber Cove firefighter behind a series of arson fires on the Sonoma Coast and in San Mateo County was sentenced to a year in jail

Former Sonoma County firefighter sentenced for arson fires
A former Timber Cove firefighter behind a series of arson fires on the Sonoma Coast and in San Mateo County was sentenced to a year in jail in each jurisdiction this week.
San Mateo Judge Jonathan Karesh sentenced Nathaniel Schmidt, 20 of Cazadero, on Friday, one day after a Sonoma County Judge Julie Conger handed down her sentence, which includes five years of probation.
The sentences will be served consecutively, starting in Sonoma County. Under state law, he will spend about six months behind bars in each county.
“This young man created substantial danger and diverted the resources and personnel of many emergency agencies, not to mention the potential for harm to the responders and others,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a written statement.
Schmidt, who remains free until his July turn-in date, was a volunteer in the Timber Cove Fire Protection District when he came under suspicion in four wildland fires dating back to July 3, 2011.
Prosecutors said he was first on the scene at each of the blazes and later confessed to setting them. Firefighters had to call in an air tanker to extinguish one of the fires.
Schmidt also was charged with filing false emergency reports around the same time. Prosecutors said he used the alias “Don Dinero” and claimed to be an off-duty San Francisco firefighter, making up reports about divers in distress and crashed cars that drew responses from rescue teams and a helicopter.
During the investigation, authorities learned Schmidt was behind another arson fire on the peninsula on July 11, 2011.
Schmidt was part of a controlled burn exercise with CalFire near the San Andreas Dam west of Highway 280 when it occurred, San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said.
He had been instructed by a supervisor to walk a fire line and watch for hot spots but reported back 30 minutes later that the blaze was out of control, Wagstaffe said.
About a quarter-acre of grass burned before it was controlled. Inspectors concluded it was “hot set” by someone.
Sonoma County authorities found out about the fire a year later. Schmidt told investigators he set it “just for excitement,” Wagstaffe said.
He faced more than 10 years in prison in the Sonoma County cases alone. He pleaded no contest to one count of felony arson, two counts of recklessly causing a fire, also felonies, and four misdemeanor counts of filing false reports.
Prosecutors agreed to drop one felony count.
In Sonoma County, Conger cited his youth, family support and developmental issues in handing down the lighter sentence. She ordered him to pay $3,400 in restitution to the Timber Cove Fire Protection District.
In addition, he could be liable for covering costs in San Mateo County.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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