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Man gets 24 years in prison for fire that killed endangered California Condors

A man found guilty of starting a wildfire that spread to over 100,000 acres and killed 12 endangered California Condors has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Ivan Gomez was convicted last month of starting the Dolan fire in August 2020 along the Big Sur region of the central California coast. In addition to the condors, the blaze injured multiple firefighters and destroyed 10 homes.

Monterey County’s District Attorney stated that police were called on a man throwing rocks at cars along Highway 1, which runs along the state’s Pacific coast, around the time the fire was first spotted.

Gomez was found guilty of arson, 12 counts of animal cruelty in relation to the condors, throwing rocks at vehicles and marijuana cultivation. The fire had started on an illegal marijuana farm in the area.

An attorney for Mr Gomez could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Dolan fire burned through 124,924 acres — about three times the size of Washington, DC — in the latter half of 2020.

Eleven condors, including two chicks, were killed in the blaze, with another bird dying later as a result of injuries, according to the non-profit Ventana Wildlife Society. Much of the organisation’s complex at the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary was also destroyed in the fire.

California condors are some of the largest flying birds in the world, with a wingspan over nine feet (2.7 metres). The birds are also extremely threatened, with a just a few hundred birds left in the wild.

California condors wait for reintroduction in northern California last month


The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List calls the species “Critically Endangered”.

Things were once worse for the condors, however — in the 1980s, the population had dwindled to just 27 birds. To save them, scientists captured every single remaining individual and started breeding them in captivity.

Since then, reintroduced birds have repopulated parts of California and nearby states. Just last month, two of birds were reintroduced to the northern edges of the California coast for the first time in more than 100 years.

One of the strongest populations in the past couple decades has been the group in Big Sur, which was devastated by the Dolan fire.

Wildfires in California are expected to become more intense in the future as drought and warmer temperatures create more optimal conditions for burns.

Recently, a wildfire burned through over 20 homes in southern California — and last year, the largest single fire in the state’s history burned through a massive area outside Lake Tahoe.


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