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Clayton Fire destroys 100 homes, scorches 4,000 acres

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A man accused of starting the Clayton Fire that destroyed 100 homes and forced thousands to evacuate the Lower Lake area is expected to appear in court on Wednesday. (KGO-TV)

The Clayton Fire has scorched 4,000 acres since it broke out on Saturday and forced thousands of residents to evacuate the area. Officials said the fire destroyed 175 structures, and 100 of those were homes.

So far, the fire is 20 percent contained. Officials said at least 1,500 other structures are threatened.

PHOTOS: Crews battle massive Clayton Fire in Lake County

Some Lower Lake area residents who were forced to evacuated are desperately waiting to hear if their homes burned down. There's word that some people may get the green light to return Tuesday.

Deputies released a new mugshot of a man who is suspected of starting the massive fire intentionally.

RELATED: Police arrest man accused of starting Clayton Fire

Damin Pashilk, 40, of Clearlake is facing 17 counts of arson and is in jail. The charges will likely be enhanced because homes and businesses were destroyed.

Firefighters said they were surprised by the arrest. "Just the fact alone that it was such a surprise means they have done the right thing in keeping the investigation close to their chest, not sharing the information, which allowed and increases for this to be a case of integrity," Cal Fire spokesperson Lt. Doug Pittman said.

RELATED: Gov. Brown declares State of Emergency in Lake County due to Clayton Fire

Pashilk has been arrested at least a dozen times before mostly for parole violations, but also on drug and weapons charges. He has a record dating back to 2005 with arrests for drugs and parole violations. Pashilk was born in San Francisco and says he is a construction worker.

"It's hard to look at that man and know that he's the one that's caused all of this because I have close friends who lost everything," Lower Lake resident Andrea McMullen said.

RELATED: Bay Area fire departments sending strike teams to fight Clayton fire

Investigators say Pashilk sparked the Clayton Fire near Clayton Creek Road just east of Highway 29.

Pashilk is suspected in other fires dating back a year and a half, but Cal Fire wouldn't say if he's implicated in the Rocky or Jeruselum fires that terrorized the same area.

Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott says the blaze has caused over $10 million in damages and left dozens of families homeless.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said no injuries have been reported, but pets have died as flames swept into Lower Lake, a small town about 90 miles north of San Francisco.

As news of the arrest settles in, the effort to clear the destroyed area is ramping up. Evacuees are restless, and a stream of them are asking police at the perimeter when they can return home. "They're not letting anybody in, everybody is upset about that, trying to get to their stuff," Lower Lake resident Adam Alfinda said.

Officials say it will take some time. "It could take days and maybe a week or two, but it's too early to really know exactly what the timing is going to be," Pittman said.

In the meantime, PG&E is working to get the power turned back on for at least 700 Lower Lake residents. They're using a helicopter to lift 19 power poles damaged by the fire. "The helicopter will actually take those polls and from the air set them into a hole in the ground and then our crews will be there to help stabilize those poles," PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo said.

Alfina is watching police and firefighters working to make the area safe for residents from a nearby gas station where he is sleeping inside his car, so when they do give the all clear he will be there. "I didn't want to leave in case we get an opportunity, I mean if there's an opportunity for me to get in, I'll get in there," he said.

Firefighters are meeting to discuss whether to allow residents from the avenues to return home possibly Tuesday afternoon.

Pashilk is scheduled to be arraigned in Lake County Superior Court Wednesday morning

For full information on school closures, evacuation centers, and donation information, click here.
Click here for full coverage on the Clayton Fire and click here for full coverage on last year's Valley Fire.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Related Topics:
newsClayton Firewildfirearsonarrestcal firefirefightersbrush fireevacuationLake CountyMiddletownLower Lake
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