Evacuations lifted in Lower Lake; Clayton Fire suspect held on bail

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The Lower Lake evacuation order was lifted late Friday afternoon, Cal-Fire announced. The lifting of the order goes into effect immediately. 

As a result, some road closures have been revised: 

Main Street, east of Highway 29 and Highway 53 junction will be removed. The road closure at Lake Street, south of Dam Road will be removed. The closure, at Jesse Street east of Highway 53 will be removed, as well as the road closure at Morgan Valley Road at Butte Rock Ranch Road. 

Meanwhile, the man accused of deliberately setting the Clayton fire - along with other fires - appeared Wednesday in court, where a judge set a $5 million bail. 

Prosecutors have charged Damin Anthony Pashilk, 40, of Clearlake, with 17 arson-related counts. His appearance in court occurred just hours before authorities lifted the evacuation for parts of Lower Lake. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, areas accessed from Spruce Grove Road east of Highway 29, including all of Clayton Creek would be open to vehicular traffic.

In court, the man accused of setting the devastating blaze had little to say when addressed by the judge. Wearing a jail issued green-stripe prison jumpsuit, Pashilk turned away from the camera in the courtroom, keeping his face down. A plea was not entered. 

Pashilk was taken into custody on Monday. He's expected back in court on Sept. 7. According to his attorney, Pashik passed out before court. 

The Clayton Fire - which has destroyed more than 170 homes, businesses and structures in the area - is now 55 percent contained. 

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott said the blaze in the town of Lower Lake has caused over $10 million in damages and left dozens of families homeless.

"Mr. Pashilk committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. My thoughts continue to be with the people of Lake County during this difficult time," Pimlott said.

The wind-whipped had spread to more than six square miles in the Lower Lake area about 90 miles north of San Francisco.

Underlying it all is a five-year drought that has sapped vegetation of moisture.

For the first time in several generations, wildfire had stalked Lower Lake last year during a devastating period from the end of July through September. Three major blazes blackened towns and mountainous wildland within a few miles to the east and south of town.

The new reality roared into Lower Lake on Sunday, when wind-driven flames fed by pines in the mountains and oaks that cluster on the rolling hills close to town wiped out whole blocks, authorities said.

 Thousands of people fled the area — some after ensuring their goats and chickens were safe.

Lower Lake is home to about 1,300 mostly working class people and retirees who are drawn by its rustic charm and housing prices that are lower than the San Francisco Bay Area.

Firefighters couldn't protect all of historic Main Street and flames burned a winery, an antiques store, old firehouse and the Habitat for Humanity office.

The organization was raising money to help rebuild homes in nearby communities torched last year. Between them, the four blazes have destroyed more than 1,400 of the 36,000 housing units in all Lake County.

The fire in Lower Lake reduced businesses to little more than charred foundations that were still smoldering on Monday. All that remained of many homes was burnt patio furniture and appliances, and burned out cars in the driveways.

Last September, one of California's most destructive wildfires ravaged a series of small towns just a half-hour from Lower Lake, whose residents were forced to evacuate. It killed four people, left a fifth missing and destroyed more than 1,300 homes in nearby communities.

Despite getting some rain last winter and spring, Lake County is tinder dry. Lawns in front of Lower Lake's modest, one-story homes are brown, matching the wildland grasses on the mountains outside town.

In wetter times, the region was not visited by the kind of wildfires that now batter it.

Other than a pair of large blazes in the 1960s, which destroyed far fewer homes in a county that had just one-quarter its current 64,000 residents, lifelong resident and county supervisor Jim Comstock can't remember anything approaching the past year.

Donations for Clayton Fire victims will be accepted at any Mendo Lake Credit Union branch, at any NCO office, or via PayPal. Make checks payable to NCO / Wildfire Relief Fund, and write "Clayton Fire" in the memo section.