A Eureka-area transient was held to answer today on a felony charge of trying to burn a massive pile of Douglas Fir logs at Schmidbauer Lumber Co. on Aug. 31.
“I wanted to watch a fucking forest fire,” Daniel J. Griffith reportedly told the Schmidbauer mechanic who spotted the blaze as he was leaving work about 9:30 p.m.
The witness, Lawrence Timm, testified that he spotted a “ball of flame” atop a log deck that held 3.5 million board feet of “very dry” Douglas fir logs. The log deck measured 40 feet high and 200 yards long. Timm also saw “a gentleman” there and asked him “What the hell are you doing?”
Griffith made the remark about wanting to see a forest fire, Timm said under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada.
“I told him to get out of there,” Timm said, “and he proceeded to put the fire out.”
Timm called 911, and Griffith waited across the street until Eureka police officers arrived. Today EPD Officer Nicholas Quon testified he patted Griffith down and found a lighter in his jeans pocket.
“He stated that he was walking in the lumberyard and he had two newspapers and he wanted to get rid of them.” Quon said. “So he put them on the log deck and lit them on fire.”
Griffith reportedly said the blaze “reminded him of a campfire.”
A few pages of the North Coast Journal, partially burned, were found wedged between the logs.
Griffith, taking the stand in his own defense, said it was never his intention to burn the log deck.
Under questioning by his attorney, Deputy Conflict Counsel Marek Reavis, Griffith said his usual practice is to eat his meals on newspaper so he won’t make a mess. Then he burns the soiled paper because he doesn’t want to take it back to his campsite to attract cats, rodents or other critters.
“It’s something I just do,” he told the police officer.
The night of Aug. 31, he testifies, he purchased a can of sardines and a loaf of bread at the Co-op in Eureka. Then he bought a case of beer at a gas station on Broadway and Wabash and walked to Schmidbauer.
After eating his meal, Griffith said, he put three or four Journal pages on a log and lit them. Reavis asked why he hadn’t started the fire on the asphalt next to the log deck.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Griffith said. “I ate right there and that’s where I had the paper.”
Both Timm and Quon testified that Griffith was calm, cooperative and matter-of-fact.
Kamada, cross-examining Griffith, asked why he chose to eat at the Schmidbauer log deck.
“It’s on the way to where I camp sometimes,” he said, adding that he often dines in that area.
“Why put the newspapers so far into the log deck?” Kamada wondered.
Griffith said the papers weren’t that far back, and he was only intending to burn the part “that was soiled by the debris from what I was eating.”
If he had been intending to start a fire in the log deck, he said, “I would have used a ton of gasoline and other incendiary devices.”
He denied trying to duplicate a campfire, saying “It’s more like I’m burning some garbage and it reminds me of a campfire.”
After testimony concluded, Kamada told Judge John Feeney that Griffith’s statement about “wanting to see a fucking forest fire” obviously shows his intent was to burn the logs.
But Reavis said Griffith’s story about wanting to get rid of food-soiled newspapers “I think makes perfect sense.”
“There’s no intention to burn this place,” Reavis argued. “I certainly think he would take more serious action than burning three or four pages of the North Coast Journal.”
Feeney held Griffith to answer, but noted that without Timm’s testimony “I’m not sure there would be a holding order.”
If convicted of attempted arson, Griffith could be sentenced to prison for up to three years.