LOS ANGELES: A man was arrested and charged with arson Monday for starting a massive wildfire in northern California that has destroyed 175 buildings and forced thousands to flee to safety.
Damin Anthony Pashilk, 40, faces 17 counts of arson, Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said during a community meeting at a casino that is serving as an evacuation center for some of the 4,000 people driven from their homes by the so-called Clayton Fire.
His announcement was greeted with cheers and applause.
State firefighting agency Cal Fire said Pashilk was suspected of setting “numerous fires” in Lake County over the past year.
“The residents of Lake County have experienced senseless loss and endured significant hardship over the past year,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in a statement. “Mr. Pashilk committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”
As of late Monday, the Clayton Fire was burning through 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares), with 1,664 personnel fighting the blaze, Cal Fire said.
Only five percent of the blaze, located more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of San Francisco, has been contained.
More than 175 homes and businesses have been destroyed since the fire broke out around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday (0000 GMT Sunday).
In the area where the fire had been contained, homes had been burned to the ground, with only their brick chimneys still standing. Cars were reduced to blackened hulls.
The fire was burning in an area of grassy woodland with heavy brush that was difficult for firefighters to access, Cal Fire said.
The community is still reeling from last year’s devastating Valley Fire that killed four people, destroyed more than 1,300 homes and burned through more than 76,000 acres. AFP