Damin Pashilk of Clearlake was charged with multiple counts of arson in connection with the current blaze, called the Clayton fire, and several other unexplained wildfires over the past year, authorities said, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
But authorities offered no further information about Pashlik, 40, or why they suspected him in the fire that destroyed the downtown of Lower Lake, a town of 1,400.
Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin told the newspaper that the town had been “very, very devastated” by the Clayton fire, which barreled up Main Street as it swept through the town, wiping out businesses and homes.
“Entire neighborhoods have been decimated and destroyed,” Martin said.
More than 1,500 homes are still threatened by the fire, which now covers more than 4,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, commonly known as CalFire.
The fire broke out Saturday afternoon in the vicinity of Highway 29 and Clayton Creek Road.
More than 1,600 firefighters are battling the flames, the newspaper said, with the help of helicopters and air tankers dropping fire retardant and water, the newspaper said.
Some of the people forced to evacuate Lower Lake had moved to the small community after losing their homes in last year’s tragic Valley fire, which killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes around Middletown, on the other side of Clear Lake.
Heavily forested Lake County has been hard hit by fire again this year as California suffers through its fifth year of drought.
More than 200 Lower Lake residents are taking refuge at a Red Cross emergency shelter at the Twin Pine Casino & Hotel in Middletown, which escaped damage last year.
The casino-hotel also served as an evacuation center in 2015, and some Valley fire evacuees were forced to live there for months.
This year, Twin Pine opened as a shelter even before getting orders from the Red Cross to do so, casino spokesman Kyle Lewis told the newspaper, using two trailers of cots and care packages the Red Cross left there last year.
“Emotions are significantly raw from the Valley fire,” state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) told reporters in Middletown.
“This is the last thing we needed in the county of Lake,” he said.
But more help appears to be on the way.
California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Lake County on Monday, opening up additional resources to affected communities and victims who could use the assistance.
“We were just starting to recover,” said Ross Hardester, owner of Hardester’s Market & Hardware in Middletown, where hundreds of homes were destroyed last year.
“Now this — so many people are on edge again,” he said.