Wayne Allen Huntsman Gets 20 Years For Igniting King Fire, Eldorado National Forest Now Making A Comeback

Wayne Allen Huntsman pleaded guilty on Friday to setting one of the worst California fires of 2014. The 39-year-old convicted arsonist was sentenced to 20 years behind bars and ordered to pay $60 million in restitution.

Huntsman initially pleaded not guilty to setting the King Fire, but later changed his plea and admitted to the crime. The blaze caused numerous injuries to firefighters, torched almost 100,000 acres of land, and destroyed at least a dozen homes along with another 100 structures.

“I plead guilty because I did it,” a crying Huntsman told the court on Friday.

Wayne Allen Huntsman will go to jail for 20 years for setting King Fire.
Wayne Allen Huntsman enters El Dorado Superior Court for charges related to the King Fire. [Photo by AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]
After the fire was ignited in September 2014, it spread through the Eldorado National Forest in the central Sierra Nevada mountain range. Thousands of area residents had to be evacuated and it took hundreds of firefighters nearly a month to get the blaze under control.

According to court documents, Huntsman started the fire and ran from the scene. A short time later, an unrelated and unsuspecting motorist offered to drive him out of the area. Huntsman then thought it was a good idea to show the person a selfie-style video he took standing near the fire.

“Listen, I got fire all around me,” Huntsman said in the video. “I’m stuck in the middle, babe.”

After a recording of the video was provided to investigators by the driver, Huntsman was quickly arrested for arson.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said Huntsman wanted to depict himself as a hero by taking the video. He also noted that assistance from other witnesses helped bring the arsonist to justice.

“In the minutes after the ignition of the fire, Lars Knutsen and Stephen and Sheila Mancuso observed unusual behavior on the part of Huntsman and had the presence of mind to convey those observations to arson investigators. As a result of their assistance and other members of the public, Cal Fire Investigators and El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office investigators arrested Huntsman on Sept. 17, 2014.”

As reported by KCRA 3 News, this isn’t the first time Wayne Allen Huntsman has been in trouble with the law. He has previous convictions for possession of stolen property, grand theft, and assault with a deadly weapon in two California counties.

With the help of reforestation efforts, the area decimated by the King Fire is now making a comeback. On Saturday, numerous volunteers gathered neat Stumpy Meadows Lake and planted hundreds of pine seedlings.

Based in South Lake Tahoe, the nonprofit Sugar Pine Foundation helped organize the volunteer effort. The foundation hoped to get 2,000 trees planted, but rain falling on the area put a damper on the replanting goal.

“The recent fires are horrible events, but they present a great restoration opportunity,” said Maria Mircheva, the organization’s executive director. “It is a rebirth and not just devastation.”

It took firefighters 27 days to get the King Fire under control.
A firefighter pulls a hose over to battle flames approaching a containment line, while fighting the King fire near Fresh Pond, CA. [Photo by AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]
In addition to the volunteers, the U.S. Forest Service has hired contractors with the ability to plant one tree per minute to help with reforestation. Near the town of Camino, roughly 200,000 seedlings have been reserved for the area.

Without these initiatives, it would take nature hundreds of years to restore the fire-ravaged area. Millions of trees destroyed by the King Fire were more than 100 years old.

Now, nearly 2 years since the wildfire, the area is showing signs of life. Mircheva said many native wildflowers, shrubs, and mushrooms have already come back. White thorn bushes, wild lilac, and bear clover have also started blooming this spring.

Wayne Allen Huntsman sparked the King Fire shortly after 4:30 p.m. on September 13, 2014 near Pollock Pines, California. While the forest he destroyed comes back to life, the arsonist will spend the next two decades in prison thinking about the devastation he caused.

[Photo by AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]