Authorities arrested a Clearlake man Monday on suspicion of setting numerous fires in Lake County over the past year, including the Clayton Fire, which has burned 4,000 acres and destroyed at least 175 structures since it started Saturday.
Damin Anthony Pashilk, 40, was booked into the Lake County Jail on 17 counts of arson after an investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the Lake County District Attorney’s Office. He will likely face enhanced arson charges for allegedly setting fires that caused the destruction of homes and businesses, authorities said.
A September 2015 arrest record from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office identifies Pashilk as a construction worker born in San Francisco, but doesn’t say what charges he faced.
The announcement of Pashilk’s arrest Monday was made as dozens of residents gathered for a community meeting at the Twin Pine Casino and Hotel in Middletown, one of three evacuation centers set up for the Clayton Fire.
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“For Cal Fire, we want to continue to be part of the process for you as you continue to heal in the wake of another devastating fire,” Chief Ken Pimlott, the director of Cal Fire, told the crowd.
Pimlott said the blaze has left 175 families homeless, with an estimated $10 million in damage and an additional $5 million cost to taxpayers for fire suppression.
The Clayton Fire first struck Saturday evening near Highway 29 and Clayton Creek Road in Lake County and quickly gained in size by Sunday night, engulfing businesses and homes as it spread, including parts of the town of Lower Lake.
Nearly 1,700 firefighters from around the state are in Lake County to battle the blaze, officials said.
Pimlott told reporters Monday that he could not release information on any other fires that investigators suspect Pashilk set.
Last year’s devastating Valley Fire, which killed 4 people and burned 1,281 homes, mostly in Lake County, was caused by a homeowner’s faulty wiring of a hot tub, Cal Fire investigators recently concluded.
The cause of the Rocky Fire – which destroyed 43 homes and burned 69,438 acres in Lake, Yolo and Colusa counties in July and August 2015 – is still under investigation. So is the cause of the Jerusalem Fire, which burned more than 25,000 acres last summer in Lake and Napa counties.
The announcement of Pashilk’s arrest was met with anger and cheers from those gathered outside the casino, many of whom had lost homes or were unsure if their houses were still standing.
Some members of the crowd yelled “burn him” and “string him up” as Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin named Pashilk as a suspect and unveiled a large photograph of him.
“There's just no words for it. You know? No words,” said David Correa, 34, a Clearlake resident and father of five, who was forced to evacuate. “How could anybody do that?”