Wine Country Homeless Man Arrested on Suspicion of Arson

Wine Country fire stars (David McNew / Getty)
David McNew / Getty

A homeless man, Jesus Fabian Gonzalez, was arrested Sunday afternoon in Wine Country on suspicion of arson after leaving a creek bed where a fire was burning in Sonoma County’s Maxwell Farms Regional Park.

Sonoma County Sheriff Sargent Spencer Crum told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that a team of county probation officers patrolling the Maxwell Park area after a series of reports of ongoing fires in the region had observed Gonzalez, age 29, as he “walked out of the creek area and a plume of smoke behind him.”

Sheriff’s Deputy John Grohl responded to the probation officers’ call and confronted Gonzalez, who was wearing a trench coat. Gonzalez is well known to local law enforcement officials, and he reportedly usually is seen living under a nearby bridge. He told the law enforcement detail that “he started the fire because he was cold.”

Gonzales was arrested, and then transported to the Sonoma County Jail, where he was booked for suspected felony arson charges. Sonoma Valley Fire Protection District personnel put out the fire and district arson investigators went to the scene to gather evidence.

The Sonoma Times published an article in August about the rise of homelessness in the Wine Country. Local police chiefs try to keep track of the homeless, but enforcement is restricted because “social justice warriors” have been successful in California courts challenging anti-homeless ordinances as the modern-day equivalent of post-slavery Jim Crow and Depression era anti-Okie laws that dispersed “undesirables” after dark.

CalFire reported the grim statistics Sunday evening that there are still 33 fires still burning, with the Wine Country suffering the worst damage. There are at least 40 confirmed dead and 310 missing, and 75,000 of the 102,000 people that fled this weekend remain evacuated due to “Red Flag” fire conditions. The 15 largest Wine Country fires burned at least 217,566 acres in the four-county Wine Country over the last 7 days.

By concentrating 10,000 firefighters on the six major Wine Country fires, crews have achieved higher containment rates including: Sulfur Fire,  75 percent; Tubbs Fire,  60 percent; Atlas Fire,  56 percent; Reswood Fire,  35 percent; Nunns Fire, 25 percent; and Pocket Fire, 25 percent.

The new Oakmont Fire that started on Saturday in very rugged terrain is only 15 percent contained. Authorities would not comment regarding the cause of the new fire.

Although Wine Country temperatures are expected to hit 90 degrees on Monday, a cold Pacific Front moving down the Northwest caused the winds to drop from 35 to 45 miles per hour on Saturday night, and to 5-to-8 mile-per-hour gusts on Sunday. Temperatures will plunge to a high of 65 degrees on Thursday as a rainstorm moves in across the Wine Country. CalFire hopes to achieve containment of all major fires by next weekend.


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