Wayne Allen Huntsman pleaded guilty Friday to setting the devastating King Fire in 2014 that torched nearly 100,000 acres in El Dorado County, a plea that came about in part because the suspect videotaped himself near the ignition point.
Huntsman, who has been housed in the El Dorado County jail since his arrest several days after the fire began Sept. 13, 2014, faces 20 years for starting the fire and was ordered to pay $60 million in restitution.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said Friday that Huntsman, a former inmate firefighter, sought to portray himself as a hero by taking a “selfie” video of himself surrounded by flames. Pierson’s office also was aided in its probe by help from witnesses.
“In the minutes after the ignition of the fire, Lars Knutsen and Stephen and Sheila Mancuso observed unusual behavior on the part of Huntsman and had the presence of mind to convey those observations to arson investigators,” Pierson said Friday. “As result of their assistance and other members of the public, Cal Fire Investigators and El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office investigators arrested Huntsman on Sept. 17, 2014.”
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The King Fire began at 4:32 p.m. near Pollock Pines and quickly exploded out of control in the drought-stricken forest. The blaze jumped Highway 50 at times and laid waste to 97,000 acres, destroyed 12 homes and 68 other buildings and left thousands of area residents fleeing to churches and other evacuation centers while more than 2,000 firefighters from around the West battled the flames.
The fire was not contained for a month, and reforestation efforts are now beginning to repair damage to the area.