In recent days sentences were handed down in two unrelated California cases in which men were convicted of starting wildfires.
In the one with the biggest numbers, Angel Gilberto Garcia-Avalos, 29, a Mexican national, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay $61 million in restitution for damage caused by the Cedar Fire, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The fire started August 16, 2016 northwest of Lake Isabella and burned 29,332 acres and 6 homes.
At his first court appearance on September 29 he entered a guilty plea for one count of causing a fire to burn in the forest and two counts of giving false information to a forest officer and was sentenced that day.
As he was driving on a dirt road, Mr. Garcia’s car got stuck while attempting to drive over a berm and rolled back hitting a tree. The muffler and catalytic converter of the vehicle were in direct contact with dead grass and started the Cedar Fire.
Series of fires in San Diego County
In the other case, Jonathan Cohen, 45, was sentenced to nine years and four months in prison. He was convicted of setting a series of five small fires in eastern San Diego County in 2014 and 2015. Investigators suspected him of being responsible for dozens or even hundreds of other fires.
Below is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
None of the fires grew large, but investigators — who had suspected Cohen of being an arsonist for more than a year before his arrest — called him one of the most dangerous people in the county because of the catastrophic consequences his actions might have caused.
The prosecutor told the jury during the trial that Cohen would go to the Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside and the Valley View Casino & Hotel in Valley Center to gamble, then start fires on his way home to Poway.
Surveillance cameras that were set up in the areas where the fires were occurring recorded Mr. Cohen’s vehicle passing by within minutes of a fire starting.
The former chief of the Kickapoo Tribal Volunteer Fire Department in Kansas was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of setting fires the tribe was paid to fight, Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said. Also indicted was a former volunteer firefighter.
Stephen D. Ramirez, 26, of Horton, Kansas, former chief, and Arlene M. Negonsott, 34, also of Horton, Kansas, are charged with four counts of wire fraud. The indictment alleges Ramirez recruited Negonsott, a volunteer firefighter, to set fires on the Kickapoo Reservation from July to November 2015 that the Kickapoo fire department was called to fight.
The Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas contracted with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide fire suppression services on the reservation. The contract called for the bureau to pay the tribe $600 for each fire it fought. The indictment alleges the defendants set six fires on the reservation.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count. The U.S. Department of Interior – Office of Inspector General, the Kickapoo Tribal Police and the FBI investigated.
(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.)
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:
Arson: structure/forest land
Arson sentence enhancement
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.
Below is an excerpt from an article in the Lowell [Massachusetts] Sun:
“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…”
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.
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.
…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…