A man who started a 2020 wildfire that killed 12 endangered California condors and seriously injured a firefighter has been sentenced to 24 years in state prison. Ivan Gomez, 31, was sentenced Wednesday by a Monterey County judge for setting the Big Sur Dolan fire while illegally growing marijuana in the Los Padres National Forest, the county district attorney’s office announced. The blaze erupted on Aug. 18, 2020, on the central coast northwest of Los Angeles, the AP reports. It destroyed 10 homes and an 80-acre condor sanctuary in Big Sur that has been used since 1997 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 around 200 square miles 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, who was shirtless and sweating, 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. Gomez was convicted of 16 felony counts, including arson, throwing rocks at a vehicle, and 11 counts of cruelty to animals involving condor deaths.
The fire, which was finally contained on Dec. 31, 2020, nearly cost the lives of 14 firefighters who were trying to defend their fire station but were overrun by flames, according to a report this year by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, which promotes firefighter safety. Three were hospitalized with burns and smoke inhalation, including a fire captain who was seriously injured. (Read more California wildfires stories.)