VIRGINIA CITY – The man accused of starting the Bear Trap 2 Fire that burned more than 15,000 acres this summer along the lower Madison River, made his initial appearance in court Monday morning.
Kyler Schmitz, who is from Bozeman and now lives in Billings, showed up for his initial appearance dressed in a suit and tie, with his parents in attendance. After District Judge Loren Tucker went through the charges, he asked Schmitz if it was okay for him to enter a not guilty plea for all charges. Schmitz said it was.
Schmitz is charged with eight felony counts of arson for starting a wildfire with fireworks in the Bear Trap Canyon Recreation Area on June 25. Schmitz also faces seven alternative charges of misdemeanor negligent arson on seven of the eight felony counts. On the eighth count, Schmitz faces the alternative of misdemeanor or felony negligent arson.
With each of the felony arson charges, Schmitz can be sentenced to 20 years in jail and/or $50,000 in fines. The felony negligent arson charge carries a maximum of 10 years and/or $50,000 in fines. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum $500 fine and/or six months in jail.
The Bear Trap 2 Fire burned on both public and private land, consuming miles of fence line, one home and eight horses. The estimated damage from the fire is about $4.55 million in property, income and property value lost. The cost of fire suppression is currently at more than $1.23 million.
Schmitz was released on his own recognizance and was forbidden to have any contact with victims or witnesses of the crimes he’s being charged with, with the exception of his brother and his brother’s girlfriend.
Schmitz is also an active duty Marine based in Billings. His lawyer told the judge that Schmitz was scheduled to go to Virginia with the Marines, but that plan was delayed by the charges. He has no prior criminal history.
Though the Madison County Attorney’s office asked the judge to prohibit Schmitz from possessing a firearm as terms of his bail, Tucker made an allowance that he could possess firearms as needed for military service.
Court documents filed in the case say that Schmitz admitted to law enforcement officers that he started the fire on June 25 by lighting fireworks in a restricted area.
“The Defendant clearly stated to several law enforcement officers … that he lit the firework/mortar that created the explosion which started the fires,” reads the affidavit filed in the case.