Fire Chief – ‘Pot’ Growers a Source of Rim Fire?
As evacuation orders and advisories were lifted Tuesday (Sept. 3) for several Sierra Nevada communities once threatened by a raging Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park comes word that the fire may have been started by illegal marijuana growers, The Associated Press reported.
Officials said they still are investigating the cause of the blaze, which started 18 days ago in an isolated area of the Stanislaus National Forest and has burned nearly 370 square miles — the fourth biggest recorded wildfire in California.
Although no cause has been announced, one local fire chief speculated the fire might have ignited in an illegal marijuana grow.
Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department told a community group recently that there was no lightning in the area, so the fire must have been caused by humans.
“We don’t know the exact cause,” he said in a talk that was posted Aug. 23 on YouTube. “Highly suspect it might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing, but it doesn’t really matter at this point.”
The video was first reported Saturday by the San Jose Mercury News.
Officials overseeing the fire suppression effort would not comment on the statement and would only say that the cause is still under investigation.
“There has been some progress but there are no additional details at this time,” said Rena Escobedo, a spokeswoman with the Rim Fire incident command team. The U.S. Forest Service is leading the investigation.
McNeal could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Illegal marijuana grows in national parks and forests have tormented federal land managers for years. Growers hike into remote canyons with poisons and irrigation lines and set up camp for months. The poisons kill wildlife and seep into streams and creeks. The growers leave tons of garbage behind.
Firefighting Cost Tops $60 Million
Meanwhile, at 235,841 acres, or roughly 368 square miles, the Rim fire was 75% contained Tuesday and fewer than 4,400 acres from moving from fourth to third place on the list of California’s largest wildfires, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The No. 3 spot belongs to the Zaca fire, which in July 2007 burned 375 square miles — or about 240,207 acres — in Santa Barbara County. About 5,000 firefighters are now battling the blaze, which started Aug. 17 and has destroyed 111 structures, 11 of them residential.
Battling the blaze, the largest in California this year, has cost $60 million in state and federal funds, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino said. Full containment is not expected until Sept. 20.
Six other fires are burning in California, down from about a dozen last week, with more than 8,000 firefighting personnel deployed across the state, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said. There has been an increase in fire activity in recent weeks, he added, because of dry conditions, gusty winds and dry lightning that sparked several hundred fires.