A large wildfire burning along the Monterey County coast near Big Sur may be the result of arson somehow related to an illegal cannabis grow.
The Dolan Fire ignited Aug. 18 at about 8:15 p.m. 10 miles south of Big Sur near Limekiln State Park. As of Friday, it had burned through more than 23,000 acres of chaparral, brush and timber and was 20% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service. A condor sanctuary was destroyed.
Though the forest service still lists the cause of the fire as unknown, indicating an investigation is ongoing, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has arrested someone on suspicion of arson in connection with the Dolan Fire.
Ivan Geronimo Gomez, 31, of Fresno was arrested and booked into Monterey County Jail on Aug. 19 after state park rangers detained him near the fire’s origin point, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Sheriff’s detectives arrested him on suspicion of five charges, including arson of forest forest land, setting his bail at $2 million. Jail records list illegal marijuana cultivation as another charge, along with throwing objects at a vehicle with intent to cause great bodily harm, battery and exhibiting a deadly weapon that wasn’t a gun.
“The case is still developing,” said Sheriff’s Cmdr. Derrel Simpson.
Gomez pleaded not guilty to the arson charges, according to Monterey County Weekly, which reported that the case follows a string of troubling incidents that have disturbed local residents and elicited fears that a shady criminal operation had established itself in the area.
Drug-smuggling boats have been spotted on the shore, a body was found near local businesses in October and a woman driving on business was stopped by a nails-and-board booby trap and yelled at by four armed men, the Weekly reported. An unnamed local hiker told the Weekly they found multiple illegal cannabis grows in the area, including one not far from where the Dolan Fire started.
The fire is one of three major blazes that have burned in Monterey County this month. Two days before the Dolan Fire broke out, the River Fire started outside Salinas amid a rare lightning storm, burning more than 48,700 acres. It was 66% contained as of Friday.
Additionally, the Carmel Fire has burned more than 6,700 acres around Carmel Valley since it ignited Aug. 18, the same day as the Dolan Fire. The cause of the Carmel Fire is still under investigation and it was 71% contained on Friday morning.
No one has died in the Monterey County fires, but more than 100 buildings were destroyed and tens of thousands of people evacuated at the height of the danger.
J.D. Morris is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @thejdmorris