Authorities have arrested a 40-year-old Clearlake man in connection with the devastating arson fires that burned 4,000 acres in northern California.
Damin Pashilk, who once trained to fight fires as a prison inmate, was charged with 17 counts of arson. When law enforcement officials made the announcement about his arrest on Tuesday, the crowd erupted in cheers.
The Lake County fires destroyed more than 175 buildings, including some in the Main Street commercial district of tiny Lower Lake. According to Cal Fire, the quick-moving Clayton fire started late Saturday afternoon and forced thousands of residents in the small towns of Lower Lake and Clearlake to evacuate.
The fire caused over $10 million in damages and cost more than $5 million to fight. Dozens of families have been left homeless.
It’s not clear what evidence investigators had to link Pashilk to the fires, but many residents say they became suspicious immediately and believed, from the outset, that the fires were not started by natural causes.
Pashilk has quite a rap sheet dating back to 1997—including 6 felonies ranging from DUI, drug possession to carrying a concealed weapon. One family member told local media he was not surprised to hear that Pashilk was behind the fires. A source with the Dept of Corrections told ABC 7 that Pashilk once trained with the California Correctional Center.
While Pashilk was serving a five-year prison sentence for drug and weapons convictions back in 2007, he served as an inmate firefighter. The three-month stint fighting fires with Trinity Camp was just before he was released on parole. He was brought back into custody 6 times for violating his parole, but did not serve again as a firefighter, said Vicky Waters with the California DOC.
According to the LA Times, 340 inmate firefighters were battling the Clayton fire on Tuesday. The Times reports that the Clayton fire was ‘preceded this summer by a rash of fires’ around Clearlake that were doused before becoming full-fledged wildfires.
Pashilk is now being held at the Lake County Jail on $5.1 million bond.
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