Man accused of starting deadly Klamathon Fire pleads ‘guilty’

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YREKA, Calif. — The man charged with starting the deadly Klamathon Fire in Siskiyou County last year pleaded guilty to the charges against him on Thursday.

John Skoda is accused of starting the fire on July 5th, 2018.

Investigators say he was conducting an illegal debris burn in Hornbrook that got out of control.

As a result, one person died in the fire and 38,000 acres were burned destroying 80 homes.

Previously, Skoda pleaded “not guilty” to multiple charges.

Thursday morning, the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office says he changed his plea to “guilty” on three charges: recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, recklessly causing a fire to forest land, and recklessly causing a fire to property.

The charges also include 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 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 when he didn’t make it out.

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.”

The D.A.’s office says the charges carry a maximum sentence of 5 years in state prison. As an alternative, the judge can decide to give Skoda probation.

Andrus says Skoda will also be facing “devastating financial consequences” but won’t comment on an exact figure at this time. He says they are currently reaching out to victims to figure out the exact number.

Skoda will be back in court for sentencing this September.

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