“Californians are very aware of wildfire danger and are hypervigilant, keeping their eyes and ears open and assisting law enforcement with their witness accounts of suspicious activity. This is extreme helpful to investigating arson cases as is forensic evidence and we thank the criminalists at California DOJ who assisted with this investigation.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SACRAMENTO— On July 18, 2023, Douglas Gregory Edwards, 37, formerly of Berkeley, pleaded guilty to setting fire to federal land in the Lake Tahoe area.
According to court documents, on July 5, 2020, Edwards set three separate fires in the forest and near hiking trails in a protected area of federal land known as the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. At the time of the fires, campfires were restricted, and smoking was prohibited except inside of a vehicle or other designated areas.
The Echo Fire
Edwards set the first fire at approximately 3:00 a.m. on a slope near Echo Lake, which became known as the Echo Fire. Civilian witnesses at the Echo Lake Chalet witnessed this fire as it began to emit smoke and notified first responders, who extinguished it with the help of a firefighting helicopter. A witness saw Edwards at the site of the Echo Fire watching an eight-foot dead tree burning but taking no steps to extinguish the fire. After firefighters extinguished the fire, investigators found a cigarette butt directly above the ignition site.
The Upper Fire
The second fire ignited shortly after 9:00 a.m. less than a mile downhill from the site of Edwards’s first fire. Again, firefighters contained this second fire using water drops from aircraft, and it was contained at approximately 4:30 p.m. Investigators found two cigarette butts near the ignition site of this second fire, and DNA analysis of those cigarette butts connected them to Edwards. In addition, a single set of shoe impressions from the Upper Fire’s origin area led back to a hiking trail that connects to Echo Peak. The tread and size of the shoe prints matched the shoes that Edward was wearing when he was arrested on July 5, 2020.
The Lake Fire
The third fire ignited around noon in the same general vicinity, near a hiking path that provides access to the Pacific Crest Trail. It was in a remote location with thick brush and trees that limited access for fire response resources. Multiple witnesses hiking in the area observed Edwards running and hiking near where this third fire began. The witnesses observed Edwards smoking a cigarette and holding a cigarette lighter. Law enforcement agents subsequently arrested Edwards in the afternoon as he was hiking approximately a quarter of a mile away from the ignition sites of each of the three fires.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service. The California Highway Patrol, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Forensic Science provided assistance.
Edwards is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 24, 2023. Edwards faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.