A man who was convicted of setting a wildfire in Big Sur that killed 12 endangered condors and seriously injured a firefighter has been sentenced to 24 years in state prison.
Ivan Gomez, 31, who was sentenced on Wednesday, was found guilty last month of 16 felony counts related to the 2020 Dolan fire, including arson and cruelty to animals and cultivating marijuana in the Los Padres National Forest, according to a statement released by the Monterey County District Attorney’s office.
The fire, which began on August 18, 2020 near a scenic coastal stretch of Highway 1, consumed nearly 125,000 acres and was not contained until New Year’s Eve, the New York Times reports. It destroyed 10 homes and wounded several firefighters, including one who was seriously injured. A dozen condors perished in the blaze and their nesting grounds were burned.
With a wingspan of 9.5 feet and weighing up to 25 pounds, the California condor is the largest bird in North America. As of late 2019, there were 518 of them worldwide, including 337 in the wild, but many have been dying due to environmental threats, according to the National Park Service.
California State Parks and Recreation officers first spotted flames about 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 18 in the forest known as the “top of the world,” according to the DA’s office. Around the same time, officers received reports that a man was throwing rocks at vehicles on Highway 1 and the Lime Creek Bridge.
Authorities identified the man as Gomez who was shirtless and sweating when officers confronted him, authorities said. He was also carrying multiple lighters.
During a lengthy interview with detectives, Gomez admitted to starting the fire at an illegal marijuana field nearby, the DA’s office said. He also told authorities that he killed five men, though no evidence of any homicides was found.
Authorities estimated the cost of fighting the fire to be nearly $63 million, according to the DA’s office.
When the Dolan fire demolished a Big Sur condor sanctuary, one of the birds it killed was Kingpin, the most dominant male in the flock, according to Ventana Wildlife Society, the Times reports.
Fortunately, Kingpin’s mate, Redwood Queen, and their chick, Iniko, survived. After recovering for roughly a year at the Los Angeles Zoo, Iniko was returned to California’s central coast and released into the wild.
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