Man arrested for starting the Clayton Fire and numerous others

(Originally published at 8:55 p.m. PDT August 15, 2016. Updated at 7:46 a.m. PDT August 16 with a list of charges against him and an updated mug shot.)

Damin Anthony Pashilk
Damin Anthony Pashilk

A man has been arrested for starting the Clayton Fire and numerous others.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The San Francisco Chronicle:

County officials arrested a 40-year-old Clear Lake man Monday on 17 counts of arson related to numerous fires set over the last year, including the 4,000-acre Clayton Fire that has so far claimed 175 buildings and displaced hundreds of people.

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin and Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott announced the arrest of Damin Pashilk at a community meeting packed with evacuees at a casino doubling as a Red Cross shelter south of the blaze. Residents gasped at the announcement.

Chief Pimlott said Mr. Pashilk had been under investigation for about a year. The charges were enhanced because homes and businesses were destroyed. He has been arrested at least a dozen times before mostly for parole violations, but also on drug and weapons charges.

He was arrested at 4:30 p.m. on August 15 and booked into jail at 12:58 am. August 16. For now he has been charged with:

  1. Arson: structure/forest land
  2. Arson sentence enhancement
  3. Aggravated arson with prior

The sentence enhancement is applicable if homes or businesses were destroyed.

Brian Hickey of KCRA News reports that “aggravated arson with prior” means he has been convicted of arson in the last 10 years.

Bail has been set at $5 million.

The Clayton Fire started Saturday evening and around mid-day on Sunday changed direction after the wind shifted and spread quickly into Lower Lake, California.

Massachusetts man indicted for planting incendiary devices at powerline

One of the devices started a fire March 31.

This follows up on the first report of the incident on April 1, 2016.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Lowell [Massachusetts] Sun:

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“A Chelmsford man accused of planting explosive devices on National Grid power lines in Tyngsboro [Mass.] in March was indicted by a federal grand jury on Tuesday.

Danny Kelly, 61, of Chelmsford, was indicted on a charge of malicious destruction of property by fire. He has been held without bail since his arrest after Tyngsboro firefighters on March 30 responded to Locust Avenue near National Grid power lines for a brush fire that officials suspect was caused by one of five incendiary devices found at the scene.

A note found at the scene explained that the devices were designed to cause disruption to power from Canada to the United States.

Investigators focused on Kelly because in a 2004 case he was convicted of cutting 18 phone and cable lines in an extortion attempt against Nortel Networks, his former employer.

Kelly pleaded guilty to extortion and in 2006, a federal judge sentenced him to five years probation, ordered him to undergo mental-health treatment, possess no destructive devices and pay $378,041 in restitution.

As part of his 2004 case, Kelly was evaluated by Dr. Roger H. Gray, who performed a forensic psychological evaluation. Gray diagnosed Kelly as having symptoms of bipolar and paranoid-personality disorders.

After the incendiary devices were discovered on the National Grid power lines, a raid of Kelly ‘s 26 School St. home by the FBI and other officials yielded chemicals that could be used to make the pipe-bomb-type devices…”

Arsonist’s selfie at King Fire leads to sentence of 20 years in prison

A man’s selfie video was one of the important pieces of evidence that led to him becoming a suspect in starting the 2014 King Fire that burned about 100,000 acres east of Placerville, California. Wayne Allen Huntsman, who pleaded guilty Friday to three counts of felony arson, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay $60 million in restitution.

Wayne Allen Huntsman
Wayne Allen Huntsman

After starting the fire, Mr. Huntsman showed someone he had just met who was giving him a ride, a video of himself standing near two points of origin of the King Fire. The good citizen recorded Mr. Huntsman’s video and reported what he had seen. Three days later Mr. Huntsman was in jail. Media outlets reported that he was held in lieu of $10 million bail.

On September 15, 2014, during the fire suppression efforts, 12 firefighters on an inmate crew became at least partially entrapped and deployed their fire shelters. But they were not in a safe deployment site. Pilots in firefighting aircraft talked to them on the radio and directed them as they walked and ran a considerable distance to a location where they could be extracted by helicopters.

The charges against Mr. Huntsman included a special allegation — arson with aggravating factors. The complaint said those factors were:

A firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency personnel suffered great bodily injury as a result of the offense.

His criminal history at the time of arrest showed four past felonies, including three 1997 convictions in Santa Cruz County for assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft and auto theft.

Below is a video of Mr. Huntsman’s video recorded by the person that gave Mr. Huntsman a ride.

This next video is an excellent report on the whole story. At first I thought the audio at the beginning was screwed up, but the multiple voices eventually resolve to normal narration.

Incendiary devices found on Massachusetts power line

One of the devices is believed to have started a vegetation fire.

Unusual incendiary devices were found hanging from a power line in Massachusetts on March 31. Firefighters reported the objects after they responded to the fire in Tyngsborough.

The photos below are screen grabs from an article at WMUR.com.

Powerline incendiary device Powerline incendiary device

Below is an excerpt from WMUR.com:

…Police said they found cylindrical metal objects on high power lines — that someone deliberately placed there.

“It would take a considerable effort to get up as high as they did in this instance,” said Howe.

Investigators said the devices looked like pipe bombs but were not explosive. They said it appears they were designed to start a fire and had to be manually activated.

“These devices were homemade,” FBI special agent Peter Kowenhoven said. “Those devices are going to now be moved to the FBI lab for analysis to identify the precursor chemicals, as well as the other parts of the device.”

Authorities haven’t said how many devices were found or how they were placed on the power lines.

“I can’t think of any other reason why somebody would want to do that, other than a sinister reason,” said Kowenhoven.

Agents said the fact that the objects were designed to catch fire — not explode — could help them pin down those responsible…

Other electricity transmission facilities in Nogales, Arizona and California’s Silicon Valley were targets of sabotage in 2013 and 2014.

Connecticut volunteer firefighters arrested for arson

In a television interview, one of them apologized but did not admit setting the fire.

firefighter arson David G. Korot Vincenzo M. Marino
David G. Korot (left) and Vincenzo M. Marino

Two volunteer firefighters, David Korot, 19, and 21-year old Vincenzo Marino, firefirefighters with the Drakesville Volunteer Fire Department in Connecticut were arrested Wednesday night and charged setting a wildland fire that burned 14 acres near Torrington. Both were released on $5,000 bonds and are scheduled to face a judge in Bantam Superior Court on March 28.

Mr. Marino appears in the video below, probably much to the chagrin of his attorney, if he is smart enough to obtain one.

Former firefighter sentenced a second time for arson

Benjamin Cunha had worked for CAL FIRE and volunteered for other fire departments.

On Tuesday a former firefighter for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Diamond Springs Fire Protection District was sentenced for wildland fire arson a second time, this time for five years. Benjamin Cunha, 33, of Placerville, California had previously admitted starting at least 30 fires from August 2005 through September 2007 in the El Dorado/Amador area.

Benjamin Cunha
Benjamin Cunha, after his arrest in 2007.

Two of those fires, the Mine and Palmer Fires, burned onto federal land. Mr. Cunha confessed he used a distinctive time-delay incendiary device, which he had also used to start many of his other fires.

Mr. Cunha, who came from a family of firefighters, was a seasonal firefighter for CAL FIRE from 2001 to 2003. According to the agency when the 2005-2007 fires were set he was a volunteer for the Diamond Springs Fire Protection District in El Dorado County.

He indicated that his motivation for setting the fires was to overcome boredom, to earn overtime pay for fighting the fires, and to impress his peers. Even though he was a volunteer, he could have been eligible for payment during busy periods, said Robert Combs, chief of the Diamond Springs district.

In 2008 he was sentenced to 365 days in jail, which he was allowed to serve in a program that allowed him to leave the jail each day for work and return for sleep. Mr. Cunha was also sentenced to 72 months of probation. The terms of probation included GPS monitoring during the fire season. He completed his term of probation in the summer of 2012.

The next summer, July and August of 2013, authorities investigated two new suspected arson fires in the El Dorado/Amador area. Law enforcement determined that at least one of the fires was started using a time-delay incendiary device similar to the devices Mr. Cunha had admitted to using in the 2007-2008 series of El Dorado/Amador county fires and he emerged as a primary suspect in the 2013 fires. Rather than continue the investigation of the 2013 fires, and to curb the risk of any additional fires in the meantime, he was charged for the 2007 Mine Fire that the government alleged burned onto federal land in El Dorado County. Cunha had admitted to setting the fire in a 2008 videotaped interview with local law enforcement. As part of the bargain struck in the written plea agreement in this latest case, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed not to prosecute the two 2013 fires.

“Benjamin Cunha set over 30 fires in El Dorado and Amador Counties. ATF worked with our local partners and utilized several resources to perfect an investigation for federal prosecution,” said Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder.

In addition to the five year prison sentence, on Tuesday U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez also ordered Mr. Cunha to pay $246,862 in restitution to CAL FIRE for the cost of fighting the 2007 Mine Fire. Prosecutors had requested the judge sentence him to 7.5 years behind bars because he acknowledged that he is a serial arsonist and “there is a high need to protect the community from Cunha.”

This case was the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with assistance from CAL FIRE.