As firefighters from throughout Lake County and the Bay Area struggle to contain the Clayton fire, a blaze that has now swollen to 4,000 acres and destroyed more than 175 buildings in the small town of Lower Lake, officials have announced the arrest of a man suspected of purposely setting the blaze. The suspect, 40-year-old Damin Pashilk of neighboring Clearlake, faces 17 charges of arson and is suspected in other fires in the area over the past year according to KRON 4. He is currently in jail.
“The residents of Lake County have experienced senseless loss and endured significant hardship over the past year,” Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott tells KRON 4. “Mr. Pashilk committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. My thoughts continue to be with the people of Lake County during this difficult time.”
ABC 7 reports that Pashilk was born in San Francisco and is a construction worker with a criminal record involving a dozen arrests on drug and weapons charges as well as parole violations.
It's also believed that Pashlik may have been responsible for multiple fires in the past and as you should remember, Lake County was hard hit in the 2015 fire season, suffering three wildfires, the Rocky Fire, Jerusalem Fire, and the devastating Valley Fire. The Los Angeles Times reports that locals are already meeting their first double fire-survivors, including "a family burned out of Middletown [in 2015] by the Valley fire just lost their new home in Lower Lake right up the road."
Together, the three fires last year burned more than 170,000 acres and destroyed over a thousand homes, and the Valley Fire claimed the lives of four people.
Some firefighters were taken aback by the sudden arrest of Pashlik, but still reassured by the turn of events. "Just the fact alone that it was such a surprise means they have done the right thing in keeping the investigation close to their chest, not sharing the information, which allowed and increases for this to be a case of integrity," spokesperson Lt. Doug Pittman told the news channel.
And yet the arrest may come as little comfort to many. Lower Lake resident Andrea McMullen told ABC 7 that she found the revelation of arson and the news of the suspect upsetting. "It's hard to look at that man and know that he's the one that's caused all of this because I have close friends who lost everything." The damage from the fire allegedly caused by Pashilk is over $10 million, and many in the area are now homeless.