Friday, June 21, 2024

Ronan man sentenced after arson conviction for starting Boulder 2700 Fire in 2021

by By BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| May 21, 2024 7:00 AM

The man convicted earlier this year of arson for starting a wildfire in Lake County in July 2021, which destroyed 14 homes and forced evacuations near Finley Point, was sentenced Friday to several decades in prison, the Attorney General’s Office announced.

Craig Allen McCrea, of Ronan, was convicted in February of two counts of arson by a Lake County jury, including one count for starting the Boulder 2700 Fire on July 31, 2021, which would go on to burn nearly 2,600 acres and destroy 14 homes and 17 structures. Hundreds of people in Lake County were forced to evacuate their homes.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office said McCrea was also responsible for starting the Finley Fire north of Evaro Hill in Missoula County, which burned 18 acres, six days before he started the Boulder 2700 Fire.

He was also suspected in several other fire starts near Flathead Lake that summer and was charged with arson, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. McCrea also pleaded guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs in October, the Lake County Leader reported in November.

“Arson cases are very difficult to prove, but with the help of detectives in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the Lake County Attorney’s Office, our prosecutors secured a guilty verdict,” Knudsen said in a statement in February. “I’m proud of our team for working to get justice for the Montana families who suffered significant loss as a result of McCrea’s actions.”

McCrea faced 100 years in prison for each of the arson counts because he is a persistent felony offender. But on Friday, a judge in Lake County sentenced him to 60 years at the Montana State Prison, with 30 of them suspended.

He was also ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution to victims of the Boulder 2700 Fire, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

McCrea was arrested in May 2022 and accused of starting the Boulder 2700 fire along with two others earlier in the month based on cellular data from a person who was with McCrea when he started the fire, video footage, as well as from DNA found on a straw used to consume drugs.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Fire investigated the arsons, and Lake County Attorney James Loptka prosecuted the case with assistance from two assistant attorneys general with the Department of Justice.