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Arson suspect arrested in Hopkins fire, authorities say

The Hopkins fire’s cause is arson and a suspect who is believed responsible for starting the 257-acre blaze has been arrested, Mendocino County officials said.

Devin Lamar Johnson, 20, of Ukiah, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of arson and has been booked into the Mendocino County Jail, Cal Fire Mendocino Unit Chief George Gonzalez said.

Jail records show Johnson was processed into the system around 1:30 p.m. and he is being held without bail.

Gonzalez did not have specifics about a possible motive.

Firefighters continued Tuesday to make progress corralling the wildfire, which began on Sunday in Calpella, an unincorporated town of 682 people, according to 2020 Census data. It is about 6 miles north of Ukiah.

Containment was increased to 60% Tuesday evening, Gonzalez said.

During a news conference Tuesday evening, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Van Patten said surveillance footage from a nearby business showed a person in the area where the fire started on Sunday afternoon.

That person, who authorities identified as Johnson, returned to downtown Calpella around 10:50 a.m. Tuesday and stood “just a few hundred yards” from the incident command post on Moore Street, he said.

Johnson faces charges of probation violation, aggravated arson, arson of an inhabited structure and arson during a state of emergency, Van Patten said, adding that Johnson was on felony probation related to an attempted robbery conviction earlier this year.

The attempted robbery occurred June 28, 2020, according to court records, and involved a gas station attendant at Coyote Valley Casino, which is off Highway 101, less than 2 miles north of Calpella.

Gonzalez praised investigators for making the arrest.

“I’m very happy about it. Arson is a very egregious act,” he said. “Anybody who’s contemplated or committed arson is doing something very egregious.”

Officials said the advancements made Tuesday in increasing containment happened despite the day’s triple-digit high of 102 and wind gusts as strong as 25 mph, which had been expected to complicate firefighters’ efforts.

Gonzalez added that while containment has doubled, evacuation orders will remain in place indefinitely.

"We’re still not out of the woods,“ Patricia Austin, a Cal Fire spokeswoman, said earlier in the day. ”We still have interior hot spots that are smoldering and those could pick up, so that’s the concern.“

Damage inspectors arrived in Calpella Tuesday to begin tallying the number of homes lost in the fire, according to Cal Fire.

An official estimate of the number of destroyed structures wasn’t expected to be available Tuesday evening, Gonzalez said.

Authorities have said 200 structures are threatened and at least 10 homes have burned.

Overnight Monday into Tuesday, firefighters reinforced lines on the western edge of the blaze, along East Side Calpella Road, in an effort to prevent the fire from spreading into the more populated areas of the town, according to Austin.

There was no particular area of concern for fire managers on Tuesday, but with active fire throughout the burn area, firefighters were fanned out across the blaze, Austin said.

“It’s not one specific area, it’s kind of distributed throughout the footprint,“ she said. ”There’s a patch here, a patch there.“

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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