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Lake County man suspected in Clayton fire charged with lighting four more fires

A suspected serial arsonist charged last month with igniting the Clayton fire and 11 others in southern Lake County since July 2015 now stands accused of lighting four more blazes, according to a revised criminal complaint filed by the Lake County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday.

Damin Anthony Pashilk, a 40-year-old Clearlake handyman, is now charged with igniting 16 fires and attempting to light a 17th fire, said Lake County Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Pashilk pleaded not guilty to all charges on Wednesday, said his defense attorney, J. David Markham.

Pashilk was arrested on Aug. 15 following a 13-month investigation triggered by two small suspected arson fires that ignited on July 2, 2015, both along Highway 20 near Walker Ridge Road.

Video surveillance in the area captured images of a Subaru wagon in the area near the time of the early fires. A subsequent investigation led to Pashilk being watched, tracked with GPS, and eventually apprehended.

Altogether, Pashilk is facing 19 arson charges, three of them related to the Clayton fire, which erupted Aug. 13 and burned through almost 4,000 acres, destroying 300 structures and damaging another 28. He also faces one count of attempted arson and four charges related to drugs and driving on a suspended license.

If convicted of all the charges, Pashilk faces up to 45 years to life in prison, Hinchcliff said.

Cal Fire investigators previously knew about the additional fires, but they had not included them in the initial summary report the district attorney’s office relied on to file the charges, Hinchcliff said. He said he did not discover the miscount until he’d already prepared the first charging document, filed Aug. 16.

“They were charges all along,” Hinchcliff said.

The newly reported fires were all small, he said. They include an Aug. 8, 2015 fire along High Valley Road and Cerrito Road; a July 26, 2016 fire at Sulfur Bank Road south of North Drive; a July 27, 2016 fire at Lakeshore Drive and San Joaquin Drive; and a July 29, 2016 fire on Ogulin Canyon Road.

The largest of the fires Pashilk is accused of starting is the Clayton fire, Hinchcliff said.

During the time Pashilk is suspected of lighting fires, there were three other large fires in Lake County, the Rocky, Jerusalem and Valley fires, which last year raged through Lake County, burning 170,000 acres.

The most destructive, the Valley fire, destroyed 1,300 homes and killed at least four people. One person remains missing.

Pashilk is not a suspect in those fires.

Cal Fire officials said last month the Valley fire was started by faulty hot tub wiring at a Cobb Mountain property, a finding the homeowners are disputing.

Fire officials said they believe the Rocky fire was started by a hot water heater in a marijuana garden, likely rigged to provide hot showers for those tending the operation. The cause of the Jerusalem fire has yet to be determined. While Pashilk is accused of starting small fires around the same time as that blaze, he is not suspected of igniting the larger fire, Hinchcliff said.

Hinchcliff and Markham said there’s still a lot they don’t know about the case.

“I just received 1,100 pages” of discovery last week, Markham said.

“We’re just getting started,” Hinchcliff said.

But many people already have made up their minds about the case, Markham acknowledged. After a year of multiple fires causing massive destruction and evacuations, area residents are angry that someone started some of them on purpose.

“I know the public has reached some conclusions already. I would like people to know they need to keep an open mind” until the case concludes, Markham said.

Markham said it’s too early to know whether he’ll seek to move the trial outside of Lake County.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Mendo?Reporter

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