BOISE COUNTY, Idaho -- An 18-year-old volunteer firefighter with the Clear Creek Fire Department is accused of intentionally starting a wildfire fire that has charred 250 acres and destroyed one home near the Robie Creek area.
Sheriff's deputies arrested Nathaniel Bartholomew Monday night as he was actively fighting the Karney Fire. Witnesses told deputies they saw Bartholomew in the area where the fire started.
"[Witnesses] had visually seen the fire when it was real small, campfire size. They notified us as to the individuals that they saw around that fire, or walking away from it," Boise County Chief Deputy Dale Rogers said.
The sheriff's office believes Bartholomew used pine cones and grass to set the fire in an area near his home off Robie Creek Road. During questioning, Rogers said Bartholomew confessed to starting the fire.
Rogers said it appears the motive for starting the fire was to get the attention of his father, who is also a firefighter. Rogers believes while the fire was intentional, he was likely not targeting certain homes.
"I don't think he intentionally started the fire to burn down residences, but where the fire was, anybody would know it's going to go uphill fast," Rogers said.
Evacuated homeowners were shocked to learn a firefighter had been accused of starting the destructive fire.
"Wow. No, that's not good at all. Because we really trust all our people out here. At least in Wilderness Ranch, our fire department, all good people. And we put a lot of trust in them to keep us safe and we have confidence in them," Dick Burgman said. "Those are the people that are supposed to be protecting us. Not setting the fires."
Burgman says he is confident in the firefighters doing everything they can to save their homes, and he believe his home is fire wise and prepared for firefighters to help. Evacuees are now waiting to see when they can go back and what will be left.
"I'm scared to death, to be honest with you. Because I don't know what's up there, what's not up there anymore," Reggie Boyle, who lives near Robie Creek, said. "We live in an extremely remote area. It's loaded with trees. This weather has been so dry, with no rain. Everything is a tinderbox up there."
Bartholomew is now in the Ada County Jail. He was arraigned on the felony charge Tuesday. A judge appointed him a public defender and set October 1 for a preliminary hearing.
The Boise County Sheriff's Office reports the Karney Fire started around 4:30 p.m. Monday, and grew overnight.
On Tuesday, the fire continued to grow after jumping a fire line and burning close to two homes in the Robie Creek area, but firefighters managed to keep those homes safe. It is burning toward a ridge that is mostly covered with pine trees and brush. Crews are focused on containing the fire at the mountain ridge before it approaches Wilderness Ranch.
The flames are threatening around 100 homes near the Robie Creek and Wilderness Ranch communities northeast of Boise. Officials say 80 homes in the area have been evacuated.
Rogers says the fact that a firefighter likely caused the fire is "tragic", especially considering a home was destroyed, thousands of dollars have already gone into fighting the fire, and the fire is still destroying land and potentially property.
"There's more structures that are in danger and if they can't get a handle on it and it gets into wilderness ranch area where there's hundreds of homes, this could be a catastrophic incident," Rogers said.
More than 100 firefighters are fighting the fire, along with two heavy air tankers, nine single-engine air tankers, three helicopters, several engines, two dozers and three 20-person hand crews.
Officials tell KTVB the Karney Fire is only 15 percent contained at this point.
The Red Cross has set up an aid station at the Idaho City High School. Children who normally get dropped off at Wilderness Ranch will be kept at the aid station for parent pickup.