Hunters detained a man suspected of setting several wildfires Saturday and Sunday in northern Sonoma County, Sonoma County sheriff's officials said.
Authorities suspect James Novak, 28, of Cloverdale set at least three fires, including a 16-acre blaze that threatened a half dozen homes south of Cloverdale, Lt. Steve Brown said.
Firefighters found a backpack with items identifying Novak near a 2:40 p.m. Saturday fire in the hills west of the man's North Jefferson Street home in Cloverdale, Brown said.
Then at 3:11 p.m., a person saw a man throwing flares into a canyon off Dutcher Creek Road south of town suspected of setting a 16-acre blaze battled by four air tankers, two helicopters and crews from six fire agencies, officials said.
Fire crews stopped the fire before it spread to six homes in the rural neighborhood.
The witness noted the man's vehicle and license plate number, a blue pickup registered to Novak, Brown said. Deputies went to Novak's house but didn't find him Saturday night.
Then on Sunday, the Sheriff's Office received a report at about 9 a.m. that four hunters near The Geysers had detained a man, later identified as Novak, they suspected was setting fires in the area, Brown said.
Several small fires grew into a half-acre blaze with a “slow rate of spread in the brush” near the small, historic community of Mercuryville, a Cal Fire official said.
At least one caller reported seeing three columns of smoke in the area.
Novak was apparently near the Rattlesnake Canyon fire trail, approximately 10 miles up the road from Highway 128 between Geysers and Pine Flat roads.
The hunters told deputies they confronted Novak, who had a dog with him, after watching him bend down just before flames appeared, Brown said. Novak apparently told them he was “doing a controlled burn,” Brown said.
Cloverdale, Geyserville and Cal Fire crews contained the fire by about 2 p.m. A helicopter, five fire trucks, three water tenders, a bulldozer and fire crew were dispatched.
(You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.)