A car believed to be driven by a suspected arsonist was captured on surveillance video and GPS tracking devices at the origin of several small fires, according to a new Cal Fire report obtained by NBC Bay Area.
Damin Pashilk, 40, of Clearlake, was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of intentionally starting the Clayton Fire in Lake County, which destroyed 189 homes and dozens of other structures. He is also a suspect in several other fires, Cal Fire has said.
After a yearlong investigation, fire inspectors are confident Pashilk is the serial arsonist they've been seeking.
In its report, Cal Fire stressed every single one of the fires that the suspect lit had the potential to do destruction and cause injuries. During one of the fires, investigators saw the suspect apparently admiring his alleged handiwork, the report says.
"He appeared to be watching the fire and taking pictures," the report says.
In another case, Pashilk was playing slot machines at the Twin Pine Casino in Middletown. He left for 13 minutes, during which time a fire started nearby. Pashilk then returned to the casino, where investigators saw him inside, the report says.
Legal analyst Steven Clark calls the case a strong one, though investigators found only a twisted paper item and burned matchbook at the origins of two of the fires. Clark said Pashilk's presence at so many fires will be tough to explain.
"The common denominator of this individual being at the time and place of these fires in such short order, that's key to the prosecution's case," Clark said.
Pashilk's alleged activities blew up on Aug. 13, when the car investigators say Pashilk was driving slowed down to 11 mph at the origin of the Clayton Fire then sped away. The fire ignited 1 minute after Pashilk passed.
Pasilk is facing 17 counts of arson in connection with several fires in Lake County over the past year, Cal Fire said. The charges Pashilk faces in the Clayton Fire carry enhancements because of the destruction of homes and businesses.