Man found guilty of starting Dolan Fire in Calif.

Several firefighters were injured in the blaze that burned 124,924 acres and took months to contain

Tess Kenny
Monterey Daily Herald

MONTEREY, Calif. — Ivan Gomez, 31, was found guilty of starting the Dolan Fire in Big Sur in 2020, Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni announced Thursday.

Gomez was charged with two counts of arson, one count of throwing rocks at a vehicle, one count of cultivating marijuana, and 12 counts of cruelty to animals because the fire killed multiple condors. He was found guilty on all 16 felony counts.

The Dolan Fire creeped down into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur on Aug. 25, 2020.
The Dolan Fire creeped down into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur on Aug. 25, 2020. (Photo/David Royal/Monterey Herald)

The Dolan Fire burned 124,924 acres and was contained Dec. 31, 2020. Several firefighters were injured fighting the Dolan Fire including a fire captain from the Nacimiento station who was seriously injured. The Dolan Fire destroyed 14 structures including 10 residences. The Dolan Fire also ruined multiple condor nesting structures and caused 12 condor birds to die, injuring several more.

The blaze broke out Aug. 18, 2020 at approximately 8:15 p.m. It was then that California State Parks and Recreation Officers observed a fire cresting the ridgeline known as “top of the world” in the Los Padres Forest. At approximately the same time, officers were dispatched to reports of a man throwing rocks at vehicles on Highway 1 and the Lime Creek Bridge. When officers contacted this man, later identified as Gomez, he stated he had started the fire at an illegal marijuana grow site on the other side of the ridge and killed five men.

Although there was no evidence of any homicides, according to the DA’s office, a multi-week investigation by the United States Forest Service Region 5 Wildland Fire Investigation Team confirmed the fire did originate at the illegal marijuana grow site.

Evidence showed Gomez would have had time to start the fire around 5 p.m. and make it to the Lime Creek area where he was confronted at 8:15 p.m. Firefighters testified that no other individuals were found in this area and that Gomez was shirtless, sweating and found with multiple lighters on his person when contacted by law enforcement. The lighters were in working order and matched others found at the origin point. During an interview with detectives from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Gomez admitted numerous times to starting the fire, the DA’s Office noted.

Gomez could face 24 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 18.

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