California Clayton fire
A house burns in the Clayton Fire in Lower Lake in northern California Reuters/Stephen Lam

A local man has been arrested and charged with arson in the raging northern California fire that has destroyed several homes and flattened the downtown area of a small town.

County resident Damin Pashilk has been booked on multiple counts of arson in connection with the Clayton fire and others in the area during the past year, Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin said.

Investigators did not reveal how the fire was ignited, nor how they tied Pashilk to the blaze. But California Fire Chief Ken Pimlott did say that Pashilk had been under investigation for a year.

Pashilk, 40, faces 17 counts of arson in connection with the Clayton fire and others. He was being held in the county jail.

Residents of Lake County were still grappling with the loss of 1,000 homes in the massive Valley fire that killed four people and swept through 170,000 acres in the rural community last summer.

This time, the 4,000-acre Clayton fire — which is only 5% contained — has forced thousands of people from their homes and destroyed nearly 200 structures and threatened some 1,500 more. The fire consumed Main Street and almost the entire commercial district of the rural town of Lower Lake.

One of the offices destroyed was a Habitat for Humanity operation that was planning the rebuilding of the homes destroyed by fire last year.

One family burned out of Middletown by the 2015 Valley fire just lost their new home in Lower Lake up the road.

"We were just starting to recover," Lower Lake hardware store owner Ross Hardester told the Los Angeles Times. "The area got through those first bleak months and was starting to see permits being issued and new homes going up on charred lots.

"Now this. So many people are on edge again."

The fire fear is increasing for California residents in the fifth year of a severe drought. The fire season never seems to be over, and major blazes have already erupted early in San Diego, Kern, Monterey, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo and San Bernardino counties.

The Clayton fire, 90 miles north of San Francisco, is unusually far north for a major state fire. The worst is likely yet to come in Southern California, where the traditional fire season is not supposed to begin until autumn.