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May 20, 2022

Man found guilty of starting Dolan Fire, causing condor deaths

BIG SUR — A Monterey County judge has found 31-year-old Ivan Gomez guilty of starting the Big Sur Dolan Fire, which seriously injured a firefighter and destroyed multiple residences, as well as throwing rocks at a vehicle, cultivating marijuana and 12 counts of animal cruelty for killing multiple condors.

In total, Gomez was found guilty of 16 felony counts, including arson of the Los Padres Forest, on April 7.

On Aug. 18, 2020, at about 8:15 p.m., 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 a man throwing rocks at vehicles on Highway 1 and the Lime Creek Bridge. 

When officers contacted the man, later identified as Gomez, he stated he had started the fire at an illegal marijuana grow on the other side of the ridge and “killed five men.”

Although there was no evidence of any homicides, through a multi-week investigation by the U.S. Forest Service Region 5 Wildland Fire Investigation Team, they confirmed the fire did in fact originate at the illegal marijuana grow site.

“This piece of evidence proved to be key as the defendant correctly identified the area of origin, which a defense expert also confirmed,” according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office in a news release. “The evidence showed the defendant 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 had multiple lighters on him when contacted by law enforcement. The lighters were in working order and matched others found at the origin point.

“The defendant, in a three-plus-hourlong interview with detectives from the Sheriff’s Department, admitted numerous times that he started the fire,” the DA’s Office said.

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

Judge Pamela Butler will sentence Gomez, who faces up to 24 years in prison, on May 18.

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