Man sentenced to 24 years for setting Big Sur wildfire that killed 12 endangered condors

FILE -Firefighters light a controlled burn along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Ivan Gomez who started a 2020 wildfire that killed 12 endangered California condors and seriously injured a firefighter was convicted Thursday, April 7, 2022 of arson and could face up to 24 years in state prison when he is sentenced, prosecutors said.(AP Photo/Nic Coury, File)
Firefighters light a controlled burn to help contain the Dolan Fire near Big Sur. (Nic Coury / Associated Press)

A man who was convicted of setting a wildfire in Big Sur that burned 125,000 acres, seriously injured a firefighter and killed 12 endangered California condors was sentenced this week to 24 years in state prison.

Ivan Gomez, 31, who was sentenced on Wednesday, was found guilty last month of setting the 2020 Dolan fire, cultivating marijuana in the Los Padres National Forest and 12 counts of animal cruelty tied to the condor deaths, according to the Monterey County district attorney's office.

The fire destroyed a number of homes and injured several firefighters, including one seriously, authorities said. A dozen condors perished in the fire and their nesting grounds were burned.

California State Parks and Recreation officers first spotted flames on Aug. 18, 2020, in the forest known as the “top of the world," according to the DA's office. Around the same time, officers received reports of a man throwing rocks at vehicles on Highway 1 and the Lime Creek Bridge.

The man, later identified as Gomez, was carrying multiple lighters when confronted by officers and admitted to starting the fire at an illegal marijuana field nearby.

Gomez also told officers he had killed five men, though no evidence of any homicides was found, authorities said.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Investigation Team determined that the fire originated at the marijuana field identified by Gomez, prosecutors said. Multiple lighters matching the ones Gomez was carrying were found near the fire's origin, according to evidence presented during the criminal trial.

Gomez admitted numerous times to starting the fire during a three-hour interview with detectives from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, prosecutors said.

The fire was finally contained on Dec. 31, 2020. The cost of fighting the fire was estimated at $63 million, according to the D.A.'s office.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.