Man Charged with Starting King Fire

Suspect allegedly broke into a home to call 911 as flames grew

Sep 19, 2014
Outside Magazine
california king fire el dorado siskiyou wildfire firefighting arson wayne allen huntsman

Governor Jerry Brown delcared a state of emergency in El Dorado and Siskiyou as 10 wildfires raged across California this week.    USFWS/Southeast/Flickr

A man has been charged with arson after allegedly setting the massive King Fire in California’s El Dorado National Forest. The fire—the largest in El Dorado County in the past 20 years—has grown to more than 76,000 acres, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

Wayne Huntsman, of Pollock Pines, California, is being held in El Dorado County Jail on $10 million bail. The complaint says that Huntsman “did willfully and maliciously set fire to and burn, and cause to be burned, forest land located in and around Pollock Pines.” He allegedly started the fire on Saturday; it spread from a remote area to a canyon filled with dry brush, where it grew out of control. Huntsman will be charged on Friday with two counts of arson: intentionally setting the fire on forest land (a felony), and causing great bodily injury to an emergency worker as a result of the fire.

Huntsman called 911 right after he allegedly set the fire, but to do so, he allegedly had to break into a home to get access to a phone.

Parts of the El Dorado National Forest remain closed, and nearly 4,500 firefighters—using more than 360 fire engines, 64 dozers, and 15 helicopters—are currently fighting the fire. Laurence Crabtree, U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the El Dorado National Forest, told News 10 that the costs of fighting the fire are upwards of $5 million a day. Even now, it’s only 10 percent contained.

In the midst of a three-year drought and a heat wave that brought temperatures above 100 degrees this week, California is suffering from 10 major wildfires, plus 200 smaller ones that could grow at any time. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

“I can tell you that, hands down, after talking to fire professionals from around the state, that these are unprecedented conditions,” Ken Pimlott, executive director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the New York Times. “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.”