Man jailed for 24 years over wildfire that killed 12 condors

Ivan Gomez started the Big Sur Dolan fire while illegally growing cannabis in the Los Padres National Forest.

California fire
California fire

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, prosecutors said.

Ivan Gomez, 31, was sentenced by a Monterey County judge for setting the Big Sur Dolan fire while illegally growing cannabis in the Los Padres National Forest, the county district attorney’s office announced.

The blaze erupted on August 18 2020, on the central coast north-west 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 were not 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.

He 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 who were trying to defend their 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 taken to hospital 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.

The California condor is the largest North American land bird, with a wingspan of up to 9ft.

In the early 1980s, all 22 condors remaining in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive-breeding programme that began releasing the giant vultures into Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest in 1992.

That flock has been expanding its range while other condors now occupy parts of California’s Central Coast, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.

Today there are more than 500 known birds, both in captivity and in the wild.

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