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Man arrested in deadly Klamathon fire

YREKA, Calif. — Northern California authorities have arrested a man they say started the deadly Klamathon wildfire last month.

Law enforcement officers with Cal Fire arrested 32-year-old John Colin Eagle Skoda Thursday after investigators concluded that a debris fire he started on a friend’s property southeast of Hornbrook sparked the blaze, which burned through 60 square miles.

The Klamathon fire killed one Hornbrook resident, 72-year-old John Karl Bermel, and injured three firefighters. It destroyed 35 houses, 48 structures and damaged another 12 structures, according to a release from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Suzi Brady, spokeswoman for Cal Fire’s Siskiyou unit, said Skoda quickly lost control of the unpermitted debris fire. Siskiyou County District Attorney J. Kirk Andrus told the San Francisco Chronicle that Skoda called 911 after the fire got away from him.

Brady declined to provide additional information about the investigation that led Cal Fire officers and the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office to Skoda.

The July 5 wildfire forced thousands of Northern California and Southern Oregon residents to evacuate and temporarily shut down Interstate 5. A section of the Pacific Crest Trail was closed due to the blaze, and though the city of Ashland was never declared threatened, Ashland High School briefly operated as a shelter for evacuees.

Authorities declared the fire 100 percent contained and have not updated information on its incident page since the morning of July 23.

Skoda, of San Francisco, was booked on five felony counts of recklessly causing a fire and involuntary manslaughter, plus two fire-related misdemeanors, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Skoda was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Siskiyou County.

Photo by Andres MarquezA photo of the Klamathon Fire taken near Ager, California, east of its origin in Hornbrook.
John Colin Eagle Skoda, 32, was arrested Aug. 23 and charged with starting the 38,088-acre Klamathon Fire. Photo from Siskiyou County Jail via Redding Record Searchlight.