The man who admitted to setting the Bear Trap 2 Fire, which burned more than 15,000 acres along the lower Madison River this past summer, faces a slew of charges in Madison County District Court.
Kyler Schmitz from Bozeman admitted to law enforcement officers on June 25 – the day the fire started – that he was using fireworks in the Bear Trap Canyon Recreation Area, which is closed to fireworks year around.
The subsequent fire destroyed one home and caused damage to two others, as well as killed eight horses and consumed miles of fence.
Schmitz is charged with eight counts of felony arson. For seven of the arson charges there is an alternative charge of negligent arson, which is a misdemeanor. However, for the first arson charge, which is connected to the home burned in the fire, there is an alternative charge of felony negligent arson, along with an alternate charge of misdemeanor negligent arson.
The alternative charges will give either a judge or jury of choosing the appropriate charge, said Chris McConnell, deputy Madison County Attorney.
“An alternative charge basically means they can be convicted of one or the other, they can’t be convicted of both,” McConnell said.
The maximum penalty for felony arson is up to a $50,000 and a maximum of 20 years in jail. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor negligent arson is up to $500 and six months in jail.
The affidavit says Schmitz used fireworks while camping with friends on Bureau of Land Management land in the Bear Trap Canyon Recreation Area. He lit fireworks on the night of June 24 and a final “sparkler bomb” on the morning of June 25 before he and friends were going to float the river.
“That firework/mortar/sparkler bomb exploded several feet above the ground. The firework explosion ignited the surrounding tall grasses, starting several spot fires in several nearby areas,” the affidavit reads. “The defendant and several members of the group attempted to extinguish the fires by dumping water or throwing dirt on the fires. The fires quickly grew in size, forcing the camping group and other campers to flee the area.”
The fire was fed by dry conditions, hot weather and strong winds leading to the emergency evacuation of Paul and Glory Hurtgen, according to the affidavit. The Hurtgen’s home was eventually lost to the fire. The cost of fire suppression is currently at more than $1.23 million.
Madison County Sheriff Dave Schenk was in charge of collecting the assessments on private property damage, a chore that took several months and still continues.
“It’s ongoing and we don’t yet know all the damage,” Schenk said Tuesday.
Still the estimated costs of property, income and property value lost in the fire to this point is about $4.55 million, which doesn’t include the suppression costs.
Schmitz has yet to appear in district court and will likely appear sometime later this month.