US & Canada

California wildfires: Man charged over Lower Lake blaze

A horse stands in front of a house engulfed in flames from the Clayton Fire in Lower Lake, California, Sunday, 14 August 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Hundreds of people have been left homeless and devastated by the Clayton fire, which is still raging in Lower Lake, California

A California man has been arrested on arson charges over a fire that has destroyed more than 175 homes and threatens hundreds more.

Damin Pashilk, 40, faces 17 counts of arson and is suspected of involvement in numerous other fires in Lake County over the past year.

The massive Clayton Fire began on Saturday evening and has been fuelled by fierce winds.

It has wiped out whole blocks in the working-class town of Lower Lake.

It is 5% contained and poses a risk to 1,500 additional structures, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Over 1,600 firefighters are battling the blaze that has left dozens of families homeless in the town 130km (80 miles) north of San Francisco.

In Lower Lake, houses have been razed by the flames, with only their brick chimneys still standing. Burned out hulks of vehicles litter the blackened landscape.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Damin Pashilk - shown here in his police booking photo - is suspected of deliberately starting the Clayton fire
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption His arrest, announced at a community meeting of residents hit by the wildfire calamity, was greeted by tears - and applause
Image copyright AP
Image caption Wildfires have stalked the periphery of the town in recent years, but this year barrelled right into it, consuming blocks of housing

News of Mr Pashilk's arrest was greeted with gasps, cheers and applause at a community meeting at a casino being used to house evacuees.

He is from the nearby town of Clear Lake, said reports.

"The residents of Lake County have experienced senseless loss and endured significant hardship over the past year," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in a statement.

"Mr Pashilk committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law."

The blaze is one of two dozen major wildfires raging across the US West, which have taken hold amid a five-year drought and high temperatures.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firefighters have tried to help animals as well as people
Image copyright AP
Image caption This marijuana plant - which can be legally grown in California for personal medical use - is covered in fire retardant used by the fire service