The sister and girlfriend of a construction worker arrested on suspicion of intentionally setting a wildfire in Northern California are adamantly standing behind him, saying there's no way, despite his past criminal background, that he could have set the King Fire near Pollack Pines.
As Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, who friends call "Chris," heads to court Friday to face an arson charge, his supporters insist he'd never have harmed the forest. He was always the one to pick up campers' litter, his sister and ex-girlfriend said, and he took care of the trees when he worked on the Cal Fire lines during one of his several prison stints.
"Even if he was angry with the world," his ex-girlfriend, Jessica, told NBC affiliate KSBW, "this would be the last thing he would do to retaliate."
She added: "He respected nature more than he respected people."
His sister, Tami Criswell of Salinas, also told the TV station that she was "devastated" and "shocked" at the serious charge against her brother, who is in custody on $10 million bail for starting a blaze that by Friday had scorched about 76,000 acres and was 10 percent contained. The fire, named for the road it starte on, was reported on Saturday.
Huntsman was arrested on Wednesday, but prosecutors have yet to reveal what evidence they have that allegedly links him to the wildfire.
Dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt to cover her face for the camera, she told KSBW: "He's always loved the forest, loved the wilderness and he's always been the one to watch the fires in the campgrounds."
According to family, Huntsman grew up in Big Sur, and then moved to several places including Salinas, Aptos and Santa Cruz. Criswell said her brother moved to Pollock Pines about a year and a half ago, and his criminal past stems from when he was much youner.
Court records show Huntsman has three criminal convictions in Santa Cruz County dating back to 1997, which include grand theft and assault with a deadly weapon. In 2003, he was convicted in Plumas County of receiving stolen property.
KSBW reported he had an arrest in Iowa in 2005 for posessing marijuana.
And most recently, in February 2013, Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputies were called to a resort in Aptos because of complaints about Huntsman's alleged drunken behavior, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported. After his release from jail, Huntsman missed four subsequent court hearings, and a warrant was issued in January, according to court records.
He has no previous criminal conviction related to arson.
KSBW reporter Brittany Neilsen contributed to this report.