Fires

Man pleads guilty to starting 2018 Klamathon Fire in Siskiyou County

Time lapse of Klamathon Fire’s rapid growth

A time lapse showing the Klamathon Fire near the California-Oregon border. The blaze started Thursday in Siskiyou County and had burned more than 21,000 acres by Saturday morning.
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A time lapse showing the Klamathon Fire near the California-Oregon border. The blaze started Thursday in Siskiyou County and had burned more than 21,000 acres by Saturday morning.

A man who was charged with starting the Klamathon Fire in Siskiyou County last year pleaded guilty Thursday.

John Colin Eagle Skoda pleaded guilty to three felony charges Thursday: reckless burning of inhabited structures, reckless burning of forest land and reckless burning of property, according to Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus. The first two charges carried an enhancement for infliction of great bodily injury or death.

Skoda faces six years in prison on these charges, the district attorney said. He could also get probation.

The DA’s office dismissed several other charges, as well as involuntary manslaughter.

“Just prior to the hearing, the judge told us that he would likely not find involuntary manslaughter due to the fact that the only fatality in the fire was a gentleman who was evacuated by law enforcement but then returned to his home and perished there,” Andrus said in an email.

The man who died was John Karl Bermel, 72 of Hornbrook. Three firefighters were injured during fire suppression. Thousands of residents had to evacuate, and 82 structures were destroyed between the two states, according to Cal Fire.

“This case was an accidental, reckless burning,” Andrus wrote. “It began as a campfire in a fire ring that got out of control in windy conditions, with enflamed debris blowing out of the ring. Evidence showed that Mr. Skoda tried to put out the fire and then called to report the fire when he lost control.”

Skoda, 32, was reportedly living in San Francisco at the time of the incident.

Skoda, dialed 911 at the start of the fire, which burned most of the month of July 2018 in and around the town of Hornbrook. The blaze charred more than 38,000 acres along portions of Interstate 5 in the state’s extreme north, as well as a small portion of Oregon. The fire prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents living between Yreka and Medford, Oregon.

At the time of his indictment, Andrus said that Skoda called 911 after allegedly starting the fire on a friend’s property, and he has “never been hard to find, I think I’d classify him as pretty cooperative,” The Bee previously reported.

Skoda’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 25 in Yreka.

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