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Man Jailed For 24 Years After Causing Massive Wildfire At Weed Farm That Killed 12 Condors

by : Emily Brown on :
Man Jailed For 24 Years After Causing Massive Wildfire At Weed Farm That Killed 12 Condors
Man Jailed For 24 Years After Causing Massive Wildfire At Weed Farm That Killed 12 Condors (Los Padres National Forest)

A man has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for starting a California wildfire that killed 12 endangered condors.

Ivan Gomez, 31, was found guilty last month of 16 felony counts, including arson, cultivating marijuana and cruelty to animals, after he told officers he had started the 2020 Dolan Fire in Big Sur by sparking a blaze at an illegal marijuana grow site.

The wildfire ended up burning 124,924 acres, seriously injuring a firefighter and destroying 10 homes, and it wasn't until 31 December 2020 that the blaze was finally contained.

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A weeks-long investigation by the United States Forest Service Region 5 Wildland Fire Investigation Team determined it did indeed originate at the grow site, and firefighters testified no one else was found in the area at the time, according to prosecutors.

Gomez was shirtless, sweating and carrying multiple lighters when found by law enforcement, and the lighters he was carrying matched others found at the grow site.

During an interview with the detectives from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Gomez admitted numerous times to starting the fire, which also destroyed multiple condor nesting structures.

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The California condor is the largest North American land bird, with a wingspan of up to nine feet. The birds have been on the US endangered species list since 1967 and were near extinction when the remaining condors in the wild were brought into a captive-breeding program.

The Dolan fire took months to contain. Credit: Alamy
The Dolan fire took months to contain. Credit: Alamy

Reintroduction of the birds began in 1992, and by the end of the decade the population had grown to 161 condors, National Geographic reports.

For the wildfire alone Gomez faced up to nine years in prison, and on Wednesday (18 May) the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office announced he had been sentenced to 24 years, comprising the full term for the fire, an additional five-year enhancement for destroying a total of 14 structures and consecutive sentencing for each additional guilty charge.

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Following Gomez's conviction last month, Deputy District Attorney Meredith Sillman, who led the case, said she was 'extremely happy' it had reached a conclusion, according to the East Bay Times.

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"Although I’m thrilled over the outcome, this is for the residents of Big Sur and all those firefighters. I’m just happy we could give them some closure. … It’s so much more important than me and my office. Justice was found for them, and that was always our main goal," she added.

Nearly 14 firefighters came close to losing their lives while trying to defend their fire station from the blaze, which left three hospitalised with burns and smoke inhalation.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University before going on to contribute to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems. She joined UNILAD in 2018 and now works as Senior Journalist covering breaking news, trending stories and longer form features with a focus on human interest stories.

Topics: News, Crime, Drugs, US News