Police arrest man accused of starting Clayton Fire

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (KGO) -- Authorities say a 40-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of starting a massive wildfire that destroyed more than 175 homes, business and other structures in the Lower Lake area of Lake County.

PHOTOS: Crews battle massive Clayton Fire in Lake County

Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said Damin Anthony Pashilk of Clearlake, California was arrested Monday on 17 counts of arson and is in jail.

His charges will likely be enhanced because homes and businesses were destroyed.

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

Pashilk has been arrested at least a dozen times before mostly for parole violations, but also on drug and weapons charges.

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

McMullen feels like so many others do.

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.

The Clayton Fire has scorched 4,000 acres since it broke out on Saturday and forced thousands of residents to evacuate the area. So far, the fire is five percent contained. Officials said at least 1,500 other structures are threatened.

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.

With his arrest people say they'll sleep easier tonight even if it's not in their own bed.

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.
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