The judge sentenced John Skoda for starting the fire on July 5th, 2018. He was facing up to 5 years in jail, but Wednesday was instead sentenced to 1 year in the Siskiyou County Jail. He must report to the jail in 7 days. Once there, officials explained he may be placed under house arrest or SWAP — Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program. That’s an alternative to an in-jail sentence.
The judge also ordered Skoda to five years probation. He is facing $43,000 in restitution and thousands of dollars in fines, which may be increased. The judge granted Skoda to work and make payments while serving his time. Skoda is ordered to make minimum payments of $200 every month with his first payment due November 15th.
Furthermore, he is required to fulfill 1,000 hours of community service, recommending he do work in schools and communities such as education for fire prevention.
“He didn’t do it on purpose, he did try to get help but it just got out of control and he has been remorseful for the whole incident,” Martha Aker, Assistant D.A. Siskiyou County said.
Investigators say Skoda was conducting an illegal debris burn in Hornbrook that day. It got out of control. As a result, one person died in the fire and 38,000 acres were burned. Some 80 homes were destroyed.
Previously, Skoda changed his plea to guilty on multiple charges in August. He plead guilty to recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, recklessly causing a fire to forest land, and recklessly causing a fire to property. The charges also included causing great bodily harm or death to somebody.
The D.A.’s office says a previous count of “involuntary manslaughter” was dropped. District attorney, Kirk Andrus, told NBC5 News at the time that the presiding judge would not find Skoda guilty of the charge. That’s because the victim who died in the Klamathon Fire, John Karl Burmel, had initially evacuated his home and went back afterwards.
The D.A.’s office says although the fire was “accidental,” it had devastating effects and Skoda’s change of plea was “the right thing to do.”
“Now that we just passed the one year anniversary of the Klamathon Fire, it’s time for that community to heal,” said Kirk Andrus, Siskiyou County District Attorney. “There was a man who lost his life, there was another person who suffered an injury during that fire, but it was also devastating to the community of Hornbrook, so hopefully people can get some closure and move forward.”
He is scheduled to appear in court again in January of next year to make sure he’s doing what the court has ordered.
Jennifer Elliott anchors the primetime newscast FOX26 First News at Ten on NBC5’s partner station, KMVU/FOX26. She also reports for NBC5 News. Jennifer began her career at NBC5 News in 2011 as a production assistant. Raised in Southern Oregon, she studied voice and piano while attending South Medford High School. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she returned home and added organ playing to her musical repertoire. In addition to her musical talents, Jennifer is an award-winning artist. She has also co-hosted Southern Oregon’s Got Talent. Jennifer is married and the mother of three children who keep her busy and very happy.