Teen cited for Table Rock Fire, may get $400,000 restitution bill

Scenes from the Table Rock fire

Firefighters battle an early morning blaze in June 2016.
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Firefighters battle an early morning blaze in June 2016.

If convicted of violating Ada County’s fireworks ordinance, Taylor Kemp could serve up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The larger penalty for allegedly starting the Table Rock Fire in late June would happen outside of a courtroom. Fire officials will seek repayment of the $400,000 it cost to put out the flames; the owner of the lone home burned may try to recoup his losses as well.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday identified Kemp, 19, as its suspect in the late June fire that consumed at least 2,500 acres, threatened dozens of other homes and blackened the well-known Boise Foothills landmark.

He reportedly told detectives he was shooting off Roman candles just before midnight June 29, by the road near the Table Rock gate, when wind blew one of them over and ignited the side of a nearby hill.

[UPDATE: Teen cited for fireworks denies starting Table Rock Fire]

The sheriff’s office has regularly fielded questions about its investigation in the two months since. Deputies apparently pored through more than 100 tips from the public and interviewed dozens of people.

They spoke with Kemp on the morning of June 30. He repeated to them a story he had told a television reporter hours earlier: that he saw kids playing with fireworks and one of them tipped over and started the fire. Kemp called 911 to report the fire, said Patrick Orr, sheriff’s office spokesman.

Ada County 911 dispatchers had received numerous reports of people lighting off fireworks near Table Rock Road before the hillside caught fire that night.

At the time, Kemp denied having any involvement. He finally admitted what happened when detectives interviewed him a second time in late August, Orr said.

[Table Rock area’s “black scar” will take years to heal]

Aerial fireworks like Roman candles are legal to buy in parts of Idaho that allow it — Kemp told deputies he bought his at a fireworks stand in Elmore County. But they’re illegal to light anywhere in the state. And Ada County bans all fireworks, not just aerial ones, in the Foothills and other parts of the county considered at severe fire risk from June 1 to Oct. 31.

The latter, a misdemeanor, is the ordinance Kemp is accused of violating.

Botanist Ann DeBolt walks in late August the trails burned in the human-caused fire near Table Rock on June 30. She is among those hopeful that native plants will be able to re-establish themselves in the area. She has seen hopeful signs.

The bigger costs for Kemp: Restitution

Boise Fire and U.S. Bureau of Land Management crews converged on the fire as soon as possible and were able to stop the spread of the blaze — but not before it consumed a home on Pheasant Lane and an outbuilding nearby.

The bill for fighting the fire includes $250,000 spent by the BLM and $150,000 out of Boise Fire coffers.

“We will seek restitution. It’s part of our due diligence,” said Josh Renz, fire mitigation and education specialist for the BLM.

Van Danielson, owner of the home that burned, said he knew the sheriff’s office had a suspect. But he hadn’t heard there was a citation until an Idaho Statesman reporter called Wednesday.

That, he said, will now give him someone to go after to try and recoup the loss of more than $200,000 from the home and family belongings.

“I had no insurance so it’s got to come out of his hip pocket,” said Danielson, 72.

He said he looks forward to the day he can speak to Kemp in court.

“I want 160 hours out of him helping to clean the mess up. I think that’s only fair,” said Danielson, who lives in West Boise.

The house was occupied by his son, Steven. He and his, wife, Tara, and their three sons were asleep when the fire broke out.

[His grandpa built his home, “now someone else took it”]

Just after the fire, Steven Danielson told the Statesman his step-daughter was out with her boyfriend that night and noticed the flames in the Foothills.

“They drove up the hill as fast as they could and came in, busted in the house screaming, ‘The hill is on fire, you guys get up and get out,’” he told the Statesman.

He and his family and three dogs and one cat escaped the flames. One cat went missing. And there was the home.

“My grandpa, Jess Danielson, built it for his wife. … They passed away and I moved up here to try to finish what Grandpa started and now nature or someone else took it,” Danielson said.

Homeowner Steven Danielson talks about his family home, which was burned Thursday morning during a fire that began about midnight near Wild Horse subdivision north of Table Rock.