By Ann McCreary
Arson charges against Keith Strickland, 61, of Twisp, who was accused of lighting a backfire during the Carlton Complex Fire, have been dismissed in Okanogan County Superior Court.
Strickland, 61, had been charged with first-degree arson in connection with a backfire set in July during the Carlton Complex Fire.
Another Methow Valley resident, Larry Dewayne Smith, 63, is scheduled for trial on Dec. 2 on two charges of first-degree arson in connection with backfires set on July 17 in Finley Canyon and July 18 in Benson Creek.
A backfire is deliberately set in order to control or extinguish another fire.
According to a detective’s report filed in connection with the case, firefighters involved in fighting the Carlton Complex Fire reported that Smith was seen lighting backfires on Benson Creek Road. Strickland, who said he was working for Smith, was seen lighting backfires on Finley Canyon Road, according to the report.
Neither Smith nor Strickland were assigned to the fire and were neither communicating nor coordinating with firefighters assigned to be working in the area, and their actions endangered firefighters and the public as well as caused damage to structures and property, according to the detective’s report.
Both Smith and Strickland have backgrounds in fighting fires, and said they were working as freelancers and trying to protect private property, the report said.
In another incident, a first-degree arson charge was dropped against Radley Hastings, 62, of Chelan. Hastings still faces 20 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of burn ban violation in connection with an incident on July 20 at his home on Quiet Valley Road.
Police reports filed in connection with the case said Hastings was told by a sheriff’s deputy not to light a backfire near his house but did so anyway, jeopardizing a crew of firefighters on a ridge above his house.
“The conduct he did in lighting the fire put 20 crew members in substantial danger,” said Brandon Platter, chief criminal deputy prosecutor in the Okanogan County prosecutor’s office. A trial date has not been set in the case, Platter said.