POLSON - A Ronan man has been formally charged with arson for starting the Boulder 2700 fire near Polson in 2021 and two other fires in Lake County.
Craig Allen McCrea, 36, has been charged with three felony counts of arson in Lake County District Court.
The Boulder 2700 fire torched over 2,300 acres along Montana Highway 35 near the Finley Point area. Several homes, structures, and outbuildings were destroyed in the blaze.
In charging documents, Lake County detectives investigated the fire above Finley Point that started in the early morning of July 31, 2021. Detective Dan Yonkin was investigating the Boulder 2700 fire as well as two smaller fires that were started in the preceding weeks — the Jette Hill fire and the Boulder 2800 fire.
Detective Yonkin collected more than 100 hours of video footage from local businesses and residents in an attempt to identify the suspects. Yonkin also obtained cell phone data from a friend of the defendant who was present with McCrea at all three fires, shortly before the fires were reported.
Over the course of the investigation, deputies suspected possible arson as the cause for all three fires and recovered items of drug paraphernalia and a package of cigarettes at the start of the fire. A straw used to insufflate drug vapors found at the Jette Hill fire on July 9 was sent to the Montana State Crime Lab, and DNA was located on the mouthpiece of the straw. The straw also tested positive for fentanyl.
Lake County authorities say McCrea's friend's cell phone data shows she was at the scene of the Boulder 2700 fire for over an hour. Video surveillance showed the car in the area of the fire as the fire blows up behind them around 2:24 a.m.
Detective Yonkin interviewed the friend who admitted to being at the scene of each fire with McCrea. She told Yonkin that the defendant would hop out of the car and start a fire with a torch. She said she thought they were just going into the woods to get high and said she wasn't from the area.
She stated the defendant told his father about starting the fires. The defendant lives with his father who at the time was employed by the Tribal Division of Fire. She told Yonkin she was afraid to tell anyone about the fires because the defendant was physically abusive to her.
Officers obtained a swab from the defendant and were sent to the Montana Crime Lab. Forensic DNA was able to match the sample obtained from the straw found on the scene with McCrea's DNA profile.
The state has requested $1 million bail due to the seriousness of the offense.
MTN News is not identifying the friend as she has not been charged with a crime.
Developing story. Check back for updates.