A suspected arsonist is being held on $10 million bail, accused of "maliciously" starting a canyon wildfire in northern California that has torn through more than 100 square miles, officials said Thursday. Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was arrested Wednesday on an arson charge and remains in the El Dorado County Jail. Authorities refused to say what led them to finger Huntsman for the fire, which started Saturday afternoon, but his case is one of "multiple" arson investigations throughout the state.
A dozen firefighters tackling the so-called King Fire were overcome by the flames and smoke and had to be airlifted out by helicopter, officials said at a news conference. They were taken to a hospital and were not seriously injured. Vehicles have been damaged in the inferno, but no structures have been destroyed.
The fire, about 60 miles east of Sacramento near the small town of Pollock Pines, exploded overnight Wednesday from 28,000 acres to more than 71,000 acres — nearly five times the size of the island of Manhattan, according to the latest figures from Cal Fire. The wildfire remains about 5 percent contained. About 2,800 people have been evacuated, and local Highway 50, which runs through Eldorado National Forest, was closed again after reopening earlier Wednesday.
Almost 3,700 firefighters are now on the scene in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada — which has become El Dorado County's largest wildfire in 20 years. The crews worked through the night, trying to keep the flames from creeping up the canyon walls. "It's cooler and the conditions are in our favor, winds are in our favor," Cal Fire crew member Brian Newman told NBC affiliate KCRA. Fire retardant continued to be dropped in the area.
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