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

The man convicted of arson earlier this year for starting a forest fire in Lake County in July 2021 that destroyed 14 homes and was evacuated near Finley Point was sentenced Friday to decades in prison, the state said Attorney General’s Office with.

Craig Allen McCrea, of Ronan, was convicted by a Lake County jury in February of two counts of arson, including one count of starting the Boulder 2700 Fire on July 31, 2021, which burned nearly 2,600 acres and destroyed 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 and charged with arson in several other arson attacks near Flathead Lake this summer, but the trial ended in a jury verdict. 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 Lake County Sheriff’s Office investigators and the Lake County Attorney’s Office, our prosecutors were able to secure a guilty verdict,” Knudsen said in a statement in February. “I am proud of our team as we work to achieve justice for Montana families who have suffered significant losses as a result of McCrea’s actions.”

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

He was also ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution to victims of the 2700 Boulder fire, according to the attorney general’s office.

McCrea was arrested in May 2022 and accused of setting the 2700 Boulder fire along with two others earlier that month. This was based on cell phone data from a person who was with McCrea when he started the fire, video recordings and DNA found on a straw used to consume drugs.

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

This story originally appeared in The Daily Montanan, found online at dailymontanan.com.

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