KEY POINTS

  • Joshua James Chimarusti faces multiple charges, including attempted murder
  • Chimarusti fired at a Ventura County helicopter that was conducting training as firefighters continue to battle blazes across the state
  • Evacuation orders are out in three different counties threatened by the massive Dixie Fire
  • The Dixie Fire is California’s 15th largest fire in the state’s history

A California gunman accused of firing multiple shots at a firefighting helicopter training at night to battle blazes across the state has been arrested, local authorities said.

In a press release posted on everbridge nixle, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as 44-year-old Joshua James Chimarusti, who now faces charges, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

Chimarusti has been accused of pointing a handgun at the Ventura County Firehawk Copter 4 while the firefighting crew performed nighttime training operations at the Lake Casitas area on July 21. Chimarusti was driving “at a high rate of speed” into Oak View and stopped in the 200 block of Olive Street.

After stopping, Chimarusta allegedly exited his vehicle and fired shots at Copter 4. The helicopter’s pilot “took evasive action” to prevent injuries and casualties among the crew.

Speaking over the phone with Law&Crime, Captain Eric Buschow of the Sheriff’s Office said investigators confirmed that Chimarusti deliberately fired at the firefighting helicopter. No injuries were reported after the shooting, and Copter 4 was not damaged, deputies said.

The Sheriff’s Office said patrol units who were deployed to arrest Chimarusti conducted “an extensive search of the area” before he was apprehended on July 22 morning.

California has been battling raging wildfires since the fire season began. Its largest wildfire, the Dixie Fire, triggered the deployment of nearly 5,500 personnel focused on containing the fire.

As of Monday morning, the expanding Dixie Fire, which is now the 15th largest fire in California history, has burned more than 198,000 acres and destroyed more than 20 structures after it was first ignited on July 13 near the Cresta Dam in Feather River Canyon, local newspaper The Sacramento Bee reported.

Some 11,000 infrastructures are being threatened by the fire, as well as thousands of other residential properties in Tehama, Plumas, and Butte counties. Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued in at least 10 communities in the three threatened counties.

Also on Monday, the Fly Fire merged with the Dixie Fire, prompting the construction of an evacuation shelter in Susanville city as a mandatory evacuation was announced for communities around the eastern shore of Lake Almanor, Reuters reported.

The merged fires have been contained at 22 percent as of Monday. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said there were 301 new fires that ignited within the state in the last seven days.

The fire has burnt down everything in its path but so far only ravaged remote areas in northern California The fire has burnt down everything in its path but so far only ravaged remote areas in northern California Photo: AFP / JOSH EDELSON