Man faces arson charges after two South Shore fires were started |

Man faces arson charges after two South Shore fires were started

William Ferchland

A man was arrested in connection to two small wildland fires behind Tahoe Colony Inn in South Lake Tahoe that were quickly extinguished Friday by fire crews worried about the dry fuel and wind.

Wade Heltzel, a 34-year-old transient was booked into El Dorado County on Friday. He faces felony federal arson charges, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The federal counts were applicable since the fires were on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Bill Johnson, an officer with the agency said Heltzel will be transferred to Sacramento where he will appear in federal court.

How the fires were ignited is still under investigation, authorities said.

Heltzel put up a struggle when being handcuffed, questioning authorities if they had any “physical witnesses” and asking about his charges.

“He’s not cooperative,” Johnson said.

The larger fire, about 30 feet by 20 feet, was in a burn pile and escaped the heap’s boundary, said Paul Tyler, a Forest Service fire investigator. The other fire was much smaller.

“I saw lots of smoke,” said 10-year-old John Harder, who lives near the Montreal Road inn.

The pair of fires elicited a swift response from firefighters. Crews and engines from the Forest Service, South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Lake Valley Fire Protection District responded to the scene.

The fire was in the general area of the Gondola fire that consumed 670 acres from a dropped cigarette in summer 2002. Tyler said Friday’s flames were surrounded by the same dense wilderness that fueled the Gondola fire, thus the quick response.

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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