Big Sur fire started intentionally at marijuana grow prosecutors and fire investigators say


The Dolan fire burning in south Monterey county is one of the most destructive fires in county history and more than two months after it started prosecutors and fire investigators say they know the cause. “Today we did answer that and the testimony that came out today was that Mr. Gomez, the defendant, had told the fire and Monterey County sheriff’s officers that he had started the fire,” said prosecutor Meredith Sillman. That detail coming out during a preliminary hearing for the accused arsonist, 30-year-old Ivan Gomez. According to investigators, Gomez admitted to starting the fire with a Bic lighter. But Gomez’s attorney pointed out that without his client’s alleged confession prosecutors could make no direct connection to Gomez and the fire.“The evidence showed different. He was found with lighters on his person, he was in a remote area, he was in the area to start the fire. And so I think all of the circumstantial evidence around and in addition to his statements showed that he had started this fire,” said Sillman.Investigators also said Gomez was part of an illegal pot grow operation located near where the Dolan fire started. The alleged pot grow had roughly 1,500 plants and appeared to be a multi-person operation.When emergency crews and firefighters arrived at the beginning of the fire Gomez is accused of throwing rocks at them. He also claimed to have killed several people at the pot camp.“This is an active fire at this point we have not been able to further investigate that being that it is so dangerous in that area,” said Sillman.To date, the Dolan fire has burned 124,924 acres and destroyed 14 homes since it started August 18. At the time of the preliminary hearing, containment was at 98 percent.But in the early stages of the fire, a crew of nearly a dozen firefighters were overcome by flames and had to deploy their emergency shelters. One firefighter was seriously burned. “The sergeant was airlifted and has spent 58 days in the burn unit,” Sillman said. Also in court Thursday lead investigator Bryon Hoskins of the Monterey County sheriff’s department testified that 11 condors that had tracking devices are unaccounted for and it’s unknown if they perished in the fire. In a new development, PETA has sent a letter to district attorney Jeannine Pacioni urging her to file animal cruelty charges against Gomez for any wildlife that may have died as a result of his alleged actions. Prosecutor Meredith Sillman said the fate of the condors is still being investigated and more charges could be filed against Gomez. For now, the 30-year-old Fresno man has been charged with six felony counts of aggravated arson, arson of a structure or forest, arson causing injury to a firefighter, throwing objects at a vehicle and cultivation of marijuana. After the preliminary hearing judge, Pam Butler ordered Gomez to stand trial on all charges. A conviction on the aggravated arson charge alone could land Gomez in prison for life. He’s scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on December 16.

The Dolan fire burning in south Monterey county is one of the most destructive fires in county history and more than two months after it started prosecutors and fire investigators say they know the cause.

“Today we did answer that and the testimony that came out today was that Mr. Gomez, the defendant, had told the fire and Monterey County sheriff’s officers that he had started the fire,” said prosecutor Meredith Sillman.

That detail coming out during a preliminary hearing for the accused arsonist, 30-year-old Ivan Gomez. According to investigators, Gomez admitted to starting the fire with a Bic lighter.

But Gomez’s attorney pointed out that without his client’s alleged confession prosecutors could make no direct connection to Gomez and the fire.

“The evidence showed different. He was found with lighters on his person, he was in a remote area, he was in the area to start the fire. And so I think all of the circumstantial evidence around and in addition to his statements showed that he had started this fire,” said Sillman.

Investigators also said Gomez was part of an illegal pot grow operation located near where the Dolan fire started. The alleged pot grow had roughly 1,500 plants and appeared to be a multi-person operation.

When emergency crews and firefighters arrived at the beginning of the fire Gomez is accused of throwing rocks at them. He also claimed to have killed several people at the pot camp.

“This is an active fire at this point we have not been able to further investigate that being that it is so dangerous in that area,” said Sillman.

To date, the Dolan fire has burned 124,924 acres and destroyed 14 homes since it started August 18. At the time of the preliminary hearing, containment was at 98 percent.

But in the early stages of the fire, a crew of nearly a dozen firefighters were overcome by flames and had to deploy their emergency shelters. One firefighter was seriously burned.

“The sergeant was airlifted and has spent 58 days in the burn unit,” Sillman said.

Also in court Thursday lead investigator Bryon Hoskins of the Monterey County sheriff’s department testified that 11 condors that had tracking devices are unaccounted for and it’s unknown if they perished in the fire.

In a new development, PETA has sent a letter to district attorney Jeannine Pacioni urging her to file animal cruelty charges against Gomez for any wildlife that may have died as a result of his alleged actions.

Prosecutor Meredith Sillman said the fate of the condors is still being investigated and more charges could be filed against Gomez.

For now, the 30-year-old Fresno man has been charged with six felony counts of aggravated arson, arson of a structure or forest, arson causing injury to a firefighter, throwing objects at a vehicle and cultivation of marijuana.

After the preliminary hearing judge, Pam Butler ordered Gomez to stand trial on all charges.

A conviction on the aggravated arson charge alone could land Gomez in prison for life.

He’s scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on December 16.



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