Man Pleads Guilty To Setting Fires In California Forest

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A man who set nearly a dozen wildfires in a Northern California national forest pleaded guilty Monday to being a serial arsonist.

Eric Michael Smith, 41, of Redding, entered guilty pleas to four counts of arson in a federal court in Sacramento but acknowledged setting other blazes in his plea agreement, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Under the agreement, prosecutors will recommend no more than a 33-month sentence. Smith could have faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Court documents indicated that between June 2019 and July 2020, Smith lit at least 11 fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, many of them in the early morning hours.

“Smith used hard-to-detect ignition sources, such as cigarette lighters and handheld torches, to ignite these fires in remote locations," according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The fires were quickly contained without causing any major damage or injuries but one shut down a freeway, authorities said.

Smith was arrested during an investigation into wildfires that had occurred over the past two years near a forest road north of Shasta Lake.

U.S. Forest Service and state fire investigators used hidden motion-detection cameras to identify a car and plant a tracking device on it, according to court records.