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July 6, 2022

Dolan Fire arsonist sentenced to 24 years in prison

BIG SUR — A Monterey County judge has sentenced 31-year-old Ivan Gomez to 24 years in state prison for starting the Dolan Fire near Big Sur in 2020, which seriously injured a firefighter and destroyed multiple residences.

Gomez, who had previously been found guilty of the arson on April 7, was also found guilty of arson of the Los Padres National Forest, throwing rocks at a vehicle, cultivating marijuana and 12 counts of animal cruelty for killing multiple condors that died in the fire. In total, he was found guilty of 16 felony counts.

On May 18, Judge Pamela L. Butler sentenced Gomez to the upper term of nine years for the arson causing serious injury to a firefighter and an additional five-year enhancement for destroying 14 structures, including residences. She also sentenced him consecutively for each of the additional charges for a total of 24 years.

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 National 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, a multi-week investigation by the U.S. Forest Service Region 5 Wildland Fire Investigation Team confirmed the fire did in fact originate at the illegal marijuana grow site.

“This piece of evidence proved essential,” according to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office in a news release. “Gomez correctly identified the origin area, which was corroborated by the People’s fire investigators and confirmed by the defense’s expert. The evidence showed that Gomez would have had time to start the fire, which was calculated to start 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.

“In a three-hour-plus long interview with detectives from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Gomez admitted he started the fire numerous times,” the DA’s Office said.

The Dolan Fire, which was contained Dec. 31, 2020, burned 124,924 acres and destroyed 14 structures, including 10 residences. The fire also ruined multiple condor nesting structures, killing 12 condors and injuring several more. 

Several firefighters were injured fighting the Dolan Fire, including a fire captain from the Nacimiento station who suffered serious injuries. The cost of fighting the fire was estimated at nearly $63 million.

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