Volunteer firefighter sentenced for Sonoma, San Mateo Co. arsons

Nathaniel Ridgway Schmidt, 20, of Cazadero, was sentenced Thursday in Sonoma County Superior Court to five years' probation and one year in the Sonoma County North Detention Facility.

Schmidt pleaded no contest in May to three counts each of setting fires on forestland and filing false emergency reports in the Timber Cove Fire Protection District between July 3, 2011 and June 9, 2012. Five additional counts against him were dismissed at sentencing.

Schmidt was then sentenced today in San Mateo County Superior Court to five years of supervised probation and a year in San Mateo County Jail for one count of arson of forestland.

Schmidt must report to the Sonoma County facility by 7 p.m. on July 12 and to the San Mateo County jail by Jan. 18, 2014.

In the North Bay fires, Schmidt was essentially setting fires so he could put them out, said his defense attorney Stephen Gallenson. Schmidt's parents said he had been a volunteer with the Timber Cove Fire Protection District since he was a cadet at age 13.

The largest of the Sonoma County fires burned nearly two acres, but no structures were threatened, Gallenson said. The attorney said Schmidt is immature and has learning difficulties, but has the support of the Timber Cove community.

The San Mateo County arson occurred on July 11, 2011, when Schmidt was training with Cal Fire and the San Francisco Water Department during a controlled burn at Pilarcitos and San Andreas Dam west of Interstate Highway 280, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said.

Schmidt was on the San Andreas Dam and was directed to walk the fire line to ensure there were no "hot spots," Wagstaffe said.

After 30 minutes, Schmidt was yelling that the fire was out of control and that helicopters and fire units were needed before the fire burned the canyon, Wagstaffe said. It was determined that a new, quarter-acre grass fire was set by someone, Wagstaffe said.

Schmidt pleaded no contest in May to setting the fire and admitted the arson was a serious felony, Wagstaffe said.

Schmidt told a Sonoma County sheriff's detective in July 2012 that he set the fires in Sonoma and San Mateo counties because he was looking for excitement, San Mateo County prosecutors said.

Wagstaffe said his office is pleased with the outcome of the case.

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