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Home / U.S / Man Is Arrested as Northern California Wildfire Rages, Threatening Thousands … – New York Times
Man Is Arrested as Northern California Wildfire Rages, Threatening Thousands … – New York Times

Man Is Arrested as Northern California Wildfire Rages, Threatening Thousands … – New York Times

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Firefighters burned away excess dry brush along Route 50 near the town of Pollock Pines, Calif., on Thursday.  Credit Alvin Jornada/European Pressphoto Agency

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PLACERVILLE, Calif. — California officials said Thursday that a 37-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire that has raged across the tree-covered canyons of this Northern California community where the fire tripled in size overnight as it burned 71,000 acres. The blaze has threatened more than 2,000 homes and forced more than 2,000 people to evacuate.

Vern Pierson, the district attorney of El Dorado County, said Thursday that Wayne Huntsman had been arrested and charged with arson after an investigation that began almost immediately after the fire started last Saturday. He is being held on $ 10 million bail.

Mr. Huntsman had no known record of arson-related arrests, Mr. Pierson said, and is believed to have acted alone. Mr. Pierson offered no details about how the fire was started, or why. But Ken Pimlott, the executive director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said that his agency was conducting several arson investigations as it fought a late-summer plague of fires for the third year of a severe drought.

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Wayne Huntsman. Credit El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office

The fire, driven by an unrelenting heat wave and the drought, is one of dozens that have scorched parts of this state this summer. By Thursday morning, the King Fire, as it is known was only 5 percent contained.

Canyons like the one where the King Fire started are covered by shrubs and trees turned brown by the heat, which has often surpassed 100 degrees. This time of year is always wildfire season; historically, rains will not arrive before late October or November.

“I can tell you that hands-down, after talking to fire professionals from around the state, that these are unprecedented conditions,” Mr. Pimlott said. “California right now is the primary focus in the country for fire activity. We are collectively putting all of our resources into California to fight this.”

The fire spread at an alarming rate overnight, powered by gusts of wind that died down by morning, giving firefighters some hope that they might be able to begin to contain the blaze.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The Associated Press.

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Firefighters worked to create a safe zone around homes near Pollock Pines in California on Wednesday. Credit Alvin Jornada/European Pressphoto Agency

There have been no major injuries. Nearly 3,700 firefighters, including many who flew in from other states, with bulldozers, airlines and helicopters, are battling the fire, and much of the effort is being directed from the air.

Video from the scene showed walls of fire and thick smoke, moving quickly across the El Dorado National Forest, about 70 miles east of Sacramento. The authorities closed down a 10-mile stretch of Highway 50, a main thoroughfare in the area, fearing that the fire could move closer to Lake Tahoe. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for campgrounds and businesses in this popular recreational area.

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The fire is one of 10 classified as major that are burning in California; 6,600 firefighters are fighting them, along with 200 minor fires. In one ominous sign of the challenge, the firefighters were struggling with spotting, where an ember from one fire, caught in a brisk wind, is transported far as a mile away, dropping to start another blaze.

Late Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the King Fire and the Weed Fire, which is along the Oregon-California border. The declaration frees up money for the state to fight the fires.

California fire officials reported Thursday morning that the fire near Weed, which had burned 375 acres, was 65 percent contained. Officials estimated that the fire had destroyed 110 homes and damaged 90 others.

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