A 24 year sentence has been given to the man who started the Dolan fire in Big Sur in 2020, which destroyed 125,000 acres and killed 12 endangered condors.
The Dolan fire began on an illegal cannabis farm in Monterey County on August 18, only a mile south of the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary, where the critically endangered raptors have been bred and released since 1997. The entire 80-acre site was lost, and while no people were killed, 10 adult condors and 2 chicks died in the blaze. Only 35 years ago, that would have been more than half the entire population. Today, it’s still a substantial 2 percent.
Ivan Gomez was found by California State Parks and Recreation officers shortly after the first flames were spotted, pursuing reports of a man throwing rocks at vehicles driving down the highway. When they located him, Gomez was shirtless, sweaty, and carrying multiple lighters. He told the officers that he’d started the fire at a hidden grow operation on the other side of the nearby ridge. He told them he’d started the fire to cover up his murder of five men, but no evidence of any homicides was ever found, so he has not been charged with homicide.
But investigation did bear out that the fire began where Gomez said it had, and so he was charged with two counts of arson, twelve counts of cruelty to animals for the condors, illegally cultivating marijuana, the destruction of 14 structures, and throwing rocks at vehicles, for a total of 16 charges.
The fire wasn’t contained until December 2020, and Gomez’s trial took until April 2022 to find him guilty of all charges. On May 19, he was sentenced to a 24 year sentence in California state prison.
The summer of 2020 was one of the worst years for fire in California’s history. 405 other new fires were reported the very same day the Dolan fire was started, one of the hottest days of the year. It took Gomez less than an hour to start the blaze, and it took firefighters more than 4 months to put it out.