Arson suspect arrested over California wildfire

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A suspected arsonist has been arrested for allegedly sparking a wildfire that destroyed much of a California town. The town of Lower Lake is still recovering from last year’s deadly Valley Fire that displaced thousands.

A California man was arrested Monday on arson charges for allegedly sparking the fast-moving Clayton Fire that’s barely 5 percent contained and has already claimed more than 175 homes, business and other structures in a Northern California community north of San Francisco.

Authorities said Damin Pashilk, a 40-year-old resident of the nearby city of Clearlake, faces 17 counts of arson for allegedly setting the fire that this weekend began burning and has already devastated the community of Lower Lake on the shores of Clear Lake – the state’s largest lake.

“Mr. Pashilk committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in a statement. No motive was released.

By late Monday the fast-moving conflagration had already blackened about 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares). Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and hundreds of people have evacuated as the fire swept through downtown Lower Lake.

Firefighters couldn’t protect all of historic Main Street and flames burned a winery, an antiques store, old firehouse and the Habitat for Humanity office.

The organization was raising money to help rebuild homes in nearby communities torched last year in four separate fires that burned more than 1,400 of the 36,000 housing units in all Lake County, a working-class area that offers lower housing prices than much of the San Francisco Bay metropolitan area.

A series of destructive wildfires

Last year the deadly Valley Fire – the state’s third largest – burned through the areakilling at least four people.

Climate change is thought to be a factor in disrupting natural rainfall patternsacross the planet and increasing fire hazards in some areas and flooding in others.

Bone-dry conditions as California weathers one of its worst droughts on record makes the fire risk extremely high in the wooded region about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco.

“Everybody is just on edge,” Lake County Supervisor Jim Comstock said. “The trees are beautiful, but when they catch fire, they carry fire.”

Tiny fraction of the fire contained

More than 1,600 firefighters were battling the flames, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said, adding that receding winds had allowed crews to make progress cutting containment lines around the flames and putting out hot spots.

The nearby community of Clear Lake was evacuated, and sheriff’s deputies in Lake County were investigating burned-out structures.

jar/se (AP, Reuters)

 

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