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Man guilty of setting fire that killed 12 California condors

SALINAS, CALIFORNIA (AP) – A man who started a 2020 wildfire that killed 12 endangered California condors and seriously injured a firefighter was convicted on Thursday of arson and could face up to 24 years in state prison when he is sentenced, prosecutors said.

Ivan Gomez, 31, was convicted by a Monterey County judge of setting the Big Sur Dolan fire, the county district attorney’s (DA) office announced.

The blaze erupted on August 18, 2020, on the central coast northwest of Los Angeles. It destroyed 10 homes and an 80-acre condor sanctuary in Big Sur that since 1997 had been used to release captive-bred condors into the wild. There weren’t any condors in the facility at the time but a dozen birds died as the blaze spread across 125,000 acres of forest.

Gomez was arrested after state parks officers spotted the fire and received reports of a man throwing rocks at cars on a highway, authorities said.

Gomez confessed to setting the blaze and was carrying several lighters that matched others found at the spot where the fire ignited, the DA’s office said.

The fire nearly cost the lives of 14 firefighters trying to defend their fire station but were overrun by flames and had to deploy emergency shelters, according to a report this year by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Centre, which promotes firefighter safety. Three were hospitalised with burns and smoke inhalation, including a fire captain who was seriously injured.

The fire was finally contained on December 31, 2020.

Gomez was convicted of 16 felony counts, including arson, throwing rocks at a vehicle and 11 counts of cruelty to animals involving condor deaths.

Firefighters light a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, California. PHOTO: AP
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