Clayton Fire Arson Suspect was Inmate Firefighter

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CLEARLAKE -- More details about Damin Pashilk, the man authorities say intentionally started the Clayton Fire in Lake County that destroyed more than a hundred homes and businesses, are beginning to reveal a past riddled with criminal behavior, prison time and even mild firefighting experience.

As the unmistakable smell of burnt wood and metal still lingers over much of Lower Lake, Pashilk remains behind bars in Lake County Jail, accused of igniting 17 different fires since last year.

"The majority of the fires we allege that he started were relatively small. We were able to keep them to less than 10 acres," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Cal Fire officials say Pashilk was known to them and the Lake County Sheriff's department, but they say they couldn't act on what they knew until now.

"We had a lot of suspicion but we needed probable cause," said Berlant.

Pashilk himself is no stranger to the criminal justice system.

Court records from Lake County show between 1997 and 2015, Pashilk was stopped or arrested by law enforcement on at least 23 separate occasions -- in that time he was charged with four felonies.

In 2002 he served prison time for drug possession and gun charges, was arrested again for possession in 2006.

State corrections officials say in 2007 Pashilk was even trained as an inmate firefighter and worked for three months in Trinity County.

"I can't see him doing this at all. Sure he has a record. He has never hurt anybody else other than himself," said Andriana Colombo, a longtime friend of Pashilk.

Despite his record, Colombo says Pashilk is a goodhearted person, a nature lover. The 17 arson charges he faces are hard for her to imagine.

"My first reaction was no way, no way. I hope, wish and pray that he did not do this because it's not of his character," said Colombo.

FOX40 caught up with members of Pashilk's family in their hometown of Napa. They didn't want to talk about him or his arrest.

"We're just glad he's off the street," said Berlant.

Many in Lower Lake's fire-ravaged community feel the same.