On September 12, 2021, the Hopkins Fire roared through the Mendocino County community destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents.
Two days later, a 20-year-old Ukiah man by the name of Devin Johnson was arrested and accused of lighting the flames that would swell to the county’s most destructive fire of 2021. As a result, he has been charged with one count of arson which could result in a prison sentence of ten years to life.
As per reporting by Colin Atagi published in the Press Democrat, Johnson’s criminal trial is on hold after officials deemed him not competent to stand trial after displaying erratic behavior in the courtroom. Johnson will undergo a jail-based competency program attempting to restore his ability to stand trial.
Johnson’s jail-based competency program will consist of the administration of antipsychotic medication prescribed by a psychiatrist with the goal of allowing him to understand court proceedings and effectively consult with his attorneys. Judge Keith Faulder ordered that Johnson’s status be provided to the court every 90-days
Reporting by Atagi indicates that during Johnson’s preliminary hearing last November, he exhibited erratic behavior requiring an escort by deputies. He interrupted Judge Faulder at one point during the proceedings say, “I’m trying to go to Disneyland.”
Two days after the Hopkins Fire, as homeowners rifled through what was left of their home, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Captain Greg Van Patten announced while standing yards from where the fire began that surveillance footage captured by a nearby business showed Johnson near the fire’s origin. Captain Van Patten stated the footage indicated Johnson was “the person, the reason, the cause of the Hopkins Fire.”
Atagi reported that during preliminary hearings last November, the prosecution presented surveillance footage that allegedly portrayed Johnson entering and exiting the camera’s view of the riverbank vegetation. The final frames of the footage show smoke and flames consuming the area.
Three days after the fire, we broke the story that a photographer actually captured an image of Johnson in close proximity to the fire. Peter Armstrong, a local volunteer fireman and photographer, steadied his camera lens and actually captured Johnson standing on Calpella’s Moore Street Bridge seemingly gazing at the flames he is accused of lighting as they consumed homes and vegetation. MCSO Sheriff Matt Kendall would confirm with us that the image portrayed Johnson.
The Hopkins Fire represents the dangers inherent in the wildland-urban interface all-too-common in the Emerald Triangle. Though its total acreage of 247 was small compared to many of Mendocino County’s recent fires, the housing density in the area resulted in the destruction of 46 structures. The fire spread east from Calpella quickly through drought-dry vegetation ascending a ridgeline running all the way to the banks of Lake Mendocino where even vegetation growing out of the drought-stricken lake bed caught fire.