Arson suspect had been under surveillance before arrest for starting Clayton Fire

CAL FIRE officers attached a GPS tracking device to the suspect’s car

Clayton fire Firefighters from CAL FIRE attempt to save a structure on the Clayton Fire. Photo by Mike Forster.

Lake County residents who were under evacuation orders while the Clayton Fire was still burning were surprised when County Sheriff Brian Martin and CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott announced that a suspect had been arrested for starting that fire and 15 others. The Chief disclosed the information during a public meeting about the fire on August 15, 2016, two days after it started. The blaze eventually destroyed 300 structures in Lower Lake, California and burned more than 3,900 acres. Damin Anthony Pashilk was charged with 20 felonies. Bail was set at $5 million.

Damin Pashilk Damin Anthony Pashilk. Photo: Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

In a preliminary hearing that began last week it was revealed that CAL FIRE law enforcement officers had Mr. Pashilk, previously convicted of arson, under surveillance for more than a year. He was followed by multiple officers with the aid of a GPS tracking device attached to Mr. Pashilk’s car. At times they were miles behind his car but were able to follow him as they observed his location on a real-time map.

The details of the surveillance discussed during the hearing as reported by Elizabeth Larson of the  the Lake County News read like a detective novel. Below is an excerpt from the article:

On Aug. 13, 2016, [CAL FIRE Forester Damon] Denman – like [CAL FIRE Battalion Chief John] Schnaidt – was conducting mobile surveillance of Pashilk, both following him in his vehicle and using the data from the GPS tracker that had been reinstalled on the Chrysler the previous day.

He had started following the Chrysler as it traveled north on Highway 29 toward Lower Lake just after 4:30 p.m. Denman estimated he was about two to three miles behind the Chrysler when he saw the icon for the vehicle on the GPS tracker signal that it had turned onto Clayton Creek Road’s north entrance a few minutes before 5 p.m. and driven in about a quarter mile before turning around, returning to Highway 29 and continuing north.

Shortly after the Chrysler left, Denman turned onto Clayton Creek Road and drove about 1,000 feet. As he came around a corner he saw a fire on the lefthand side – or the east side – of the road, approximately 15 feet in diameter, burning in thigh high grass.

“It was burning aggressively,” Denman said, explaining that he pulled over and reported it to 911. Schnaidt pulled up behind him and marked the edges of the fire [with four very large metal washers].

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.