Hearing set for man accused of starting huge fire


PLACERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Higher humidity Friday helped slow the growth of a massive Northern California
wildfire that has forced some 2,800 to evacuate and likely burned homes, while a man accused of
deliberately starting the blaze was set to appear in court.

The wind-whipped wildfire 60 miles east of Sacramento burned through nearly 120 square miles of timber
and vegetation east of Sacramento and was just 10 percent contained. Fire officials said Friday it has
burned multiple structures in the White Meadow area of Pollock Pines.

Some of them likely are homes and probably burned in the past day or two, fire information officer Mike
McMillan said. Crews assessing the damage likely will have better count later in the day, he said.

The fire grew overnight but not nearly as substantially as it did Thursday, when it more than doubled in
size. Higher humidity helped control the fire’s growth, though winds could be a factor in the evening,
fire officials said.

"Things are looking better as far as the fire activity and our containment," McMillan said.

Still, those near the fire said it was powerful and dangerous. Nearly 4,500 firefighters were battling
the blaze, which was threatening 12,000 homes.

"There are a lot of firefighters saying that this fire is producing fire conditions unlike anything
that they have ever seen," Cal Fire Battalion Chief Joe Tyler said at a community meeting Thursday
night. "It’s creating its own weather overhead."

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was jailed in El Dorado County on $10 million bail and was scheduled to be
arraigned Friday.

He faces a forest arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because
the blaze put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They
all escaped unharmed.

District Attorney Vern Pierson declined to say what led to Huntsman’s arrest this week in Placerville.

"It’s something that’s evolving at this point," Pierson said of the investigation. He did not
know whether Huntsman had an attorney.

Huntsman’s sister, Tami Criswell, said she doubts her brother started the fire but if he did, it wasn’t
on purpose. Criswell said her brother, who has worked in construction and private security, loves being
in the forest and always was cautious with campfires.

"He’s a really good guy," Criswell said. "He would never do anything intentionally to hurt

Yet, Santa Cruz authorities have a $5,000 warrant out for Huntsman stemming from a February 2013 arrest
for resisting or obstructing a public officer. Officials said he has missed several court dates.

His arrest record in Santa Cruz dates back to 1996, according to court records. That year he was
convicted of tampering with a vehicle, auto theft, driving under the influence, grand theft and assault
with a deadly weapon, which resulted in a three-year sentence. He was sent to San Quentin State Prison.

In 2003, he was convicted in Plumas County of receiving stolen property, according to the latest

The blaze, which started Saturday, has been fueled by heavy timber and grass that is extremely dry
because the state is in its third year of drought.

Residents at an evacuation center said they were worried about their homes.

"We’ve been doing a lot of praying," said Sally Dykstra, who lives in the middle of the fire
area with her husband, Garry, 74, and her daughter, Stacie, 46.

Farther north in the town of Weed, 143 homes and nine other buildings were destroyed, according to final
damage assessments released Thursday. Residents were expected to be allowed to return to the burned
areas once utility crews finished restoring power, water and telephone service.


Thanawala reported from San Francisco. Raquel Maria Dillion in Placerville, Scott Smith in Fresno,
Calif., Judith Ausuebel in New York and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., contributed to this report.

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