A representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has reached out to Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster advocating that Devin Lamar Johnson, the Ukiah man accused of purposefully lighting the Hopkins Fire on September 12, 2021, be charged with animal cruelty after their “Cruelty Investigations Department” found that at least three dogs, two cats, as well as several finches, parakeets, and parrots lost their lives in the fire.
The letter, signed by Sarah Deffinger, a Senior Evidence Analyst in PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, recognizes that the Hopkins Fire destroyed over 46 homes and other structures and more than 250 acres of land while also inflicting “terror and suffering on many domesticated and wild animals and cause them to endure prolonged, agonizing deaths.”
Deffinger writes that PETA’s advocacy resulted in a Jackson County Oregon District Attorney charging accused arsonist Michael Jarrod Bakkela with animal cruelty who reportedly lit a fire in Phoenix, Oregon on September 8, 2020. The Almeda Fire destroyed 2,600 homes in a matter of hours and led to the deaths of a sheep, a canary, a lamb, chickens, a raccoon and a goldfish.
We spoke with Colin Henstock, PETA’s Assistant Manager of Investigations, about his organization’s animal advocacy and how it has intersected with wildfires. He told us that as the climate continues to change, the risk of wildfires grows, and PETA wants people who are starting these fires and harming animals held accountable.
Henstock said the animals lost in wildfires are often “lost in the bigger picture of the entire tragedy. When you see dozens of homes lost and hundreds of acres burned, it is easy to forget these animals that die suffer a terrifying and horrific death.”
To put their advocacy for animal cruelty charges in perspective, Henstock proposed hypotheticaly, “If a single animal was lit on fire in a public space, the community would be outraged. Why would the animals lost in these fires be any different?”
PETA is also encouraging Shasta County’s District Attorney Stephanie A. Bridgett to charge Alexandra Andreevna Souverneva for the animals that died in the Fawn Fire which she is accused of lighting. The Fawn Fire has destroyed 185 residential and commercial structures and resulted in the burning of 8,595 acres of wildland
Hensworth said PETA works hard to collaborate with law enforcement to “increase legal protections of animals under the law.”
Outside of the scope of animal cruelty and arson, Henstock wanted to remind the community that the most effective method to mitigate climate change, as determined by researchers and the University of Chicago, was to go vegan and avoid animal products. “This is more effective than going from gasoline cars to hybrid and is the best thing anyone can do to stop climate change.”
As per charging documents submitted by the Mendocino County District Attorney Devin Lamar Johnson was charged with two counts of aggravated arson. One count was prompted by the fire causing property damage and fire response expenses in excess of $8,300,000 and the other count was the result of the fire causing damage to five or more inhabited structures.
As per the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Booking Logs Johnson remains in the county jail with his bail set at $2,000,000.