Former Firefighter Convicted of Arson in Dramatic Four-Day Trial

POLSON, Montana – A former firefighter was found guilty of arson last Thursday after a four-day trial at the Lake County Courthouse. The verdict came after the jury reached a unanimous decision on two of the four charges against Craig McClure. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the other two counts.

During the trial, Judge Robert Deschamps advised the jurors to collaborate and reiterated that they should not avoid their duty. After about five hours of deliberations, the jury unanimously determined that McClure was guilty of starting the Finley fire on Evaro Hill and the devastating Boulder 2700 fire on the east shore of Flathead Lake. The latter fire burned over 2,500 acres, destroyed four homes and 17 structures, and led to the evacuation of Finley Point.

The charges that did not yield unanimous verdicts were related to a smaller fire on Jette Hill and the Boulder 2800 fire on the east shore of Flathead Lake. Fire investigators testified that all four fires were intentionally set.

During the trial, McClure’s father, Bob McCrea, a longtime CSKT wildlands fire specialist, took the stand and revealed that his son had been a firefighter until he was injured on the job and became addicted to opioid painkillers, fentanyl, and heroin. McCrea also testified that his son had asked him about catching someone starting a fire, to which he had replied that arson was difficult to catch unless a person was seen actually starting the fire.

Key evidence presented during the trial included testimony from McClure’s girlfriend, Crystal Kline, who stated that she had been in the vehicle with him at three of the four locations where fires were started. Former Lake County detective Dan Yonkin traced cellphone tower pings and GPS data to connect Kline’s phone to the locations of the fires. Video footage also showed a white Dodge truck traveling to and from the areas where the fires started.

Defense attorney Shandor Badarudden argued that Kline and another key witness had made deals with law enforcement to lighten their drug possession charges in exchange for their testimony. Badarudden also pointed out that the cellphone pings were connected to Kline’s phone, suggesting that she may have been responsible for starting the fires.

McCrea, who has been incarcerated since May 2022, pleaded guilty to possession of dangerous drugs in October of the same year. Sentencing for the arson charges is tentatively set for May, and victims of the Boulder 2700 fire may be allowed to testify. McClure could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 for each count of arson.

The conviction of McClure serves as a significant development in a case that brought devastation to the Flathead Lake area. The trial revealed evidence connecting him to the intentional setting of fires, highlighting the impact of addiction on individuals and their communities. The upcoming sentencing will provide an opportunity for victims to share their experiences and seek justice.