An Ada County judge found Tuesday that 19-year-old Taylor Kemp caused last summer’s Table Rock Fire when a Roman candle he lighted tipped over and ignited nearby dry grass.
Magistrate James Cawthon said the evidence presented over two days showed Kemp more likely than not caused the fire that destroyed a house, threatened dozens of others and burned 2,500 acres of land near the Boise monument.
In February, Kemp pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of Ada County’s fireworks ordinance. This week’s hearing was to determine whether his lighting of that illegal firework caused the larger wildfire.
Cawthon said he found credible the testimony of an 18-year-old woman who said she saw a man on June 29 light a Roman candle as she and a friend drove away from Table Rock shortly before midnight. Although the woman was unable to provide a detailed description, she later identified Kemp as that man after viewing a KTVB-TV interview with him the night of the fire.
Defense attorneys argued that the woman may have been unduly influenced because her father sent the woman a link to the interview.
Defense attorney Donald “Neil” Price told Cawthon it was impossible to tell whether the fire was caused by Taylor’s firework or by other aerial fireworks set off in the same area.
“There were at least a dozen and up to 40 to 50 people up at Table Rock at that time,” and a number of other burned fireworks were found in the same area, Price said.
Deputy Prosecutor Tamera Kelly said Kemp admitted to lighting the fire when he confessed to an Ada County detective last August.
Cawthon also rejected that the fire might have been caused by lightning. Taxi driver Clifford Lawrence said he was near Barber Park shortly before midnight when he saw a bolt of lightning strike the ground a few miles north, toward Table Rock.
Seconds later, Lawrence said, he saw a “big white puff” of smoke and then flames from a fire.
Cawthon said he believed witnesses at Table Rock who said the fire was started by a firework.
After Cawthon made his decision early Tuesday afternoon, testimony shifted to the damage caused by the fire. Officials from the Boise fire and police departments testified on their involvement in responding to the fire.
The Boise Fire Department said it spent $78,255 to fight the fire, including $6,025 in overtime expenses. There was also an additional $38,474 paid to off-duty firefighters called to work to cover stations depleted of firefighters sent to Table Rock.
The Boise Police Department reported costs of $10,254, including $4,000 in overtime expenses.
Idaho Power, which had to replace a transmission line damaged by the fire, submitted a bill of $31,347.
The federal Bureau of Land Management, which also fought the fire on the ground and by dropping fire retardant from the air, is seeking $250,000.
Van Danielson, who lost his home in the fire, described his property as “black.”
“Anything that was burnable burnt,” Danielson testified.
Besides his house, Danielson lost eight vehicles in various conditions, including four 1940s Cadillacs.
Kemp faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine when he is sentenced Friday.