Authorities have accused a Northern California marijuana grower of starting a large wildfire while he was transporting material for a pot garden.
The man, who gave his name as Freddie Alexander Smoke III, was arrested July 12. He was charged with recklessly causing a fire and cultivating marijuana, both felonies, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The blaze, known as the Bully fire, had burned several square miles as of July 13, and firefighters were struggling to put it under control. More than 1,000 people worked to fight the flames, which threatened homes and other buildings.
Truck Blamed for Wildfire
Some residents were evacuated but were later allowed to return to their homes. Roads that were closed due to the fire were reopened.
Authorities said the blaze started when Smoke’s truck backfired while he was delivering material to a grow site. The exhaust ignited dried grass, and the fire spread from there, officials said. Smoke was at the site when the fire started, they said.
The wildfire burned a forested area that borders Sequoia National Park near Fresno. The park, which includes Mount Whitney, contains some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.
This isn’t the first time authorities in California have pinned a wildfire on someone in the marijuana community. Last year a local fire chief suggested that a massive fire around Yosemite National Park – one of the largest in state history – was sparked by an illegal marijuana grower.
That speculation turned out to be false, as the so-called Rim blaze was caused by a hunter who started an illegal campfire.
Growers Blamed for State’s Problems
California wildfires have increased in size, frequency, and devastation in recent years. Inevitably, some of the blame has fallen on the marijuana industry.
Medical pot has been legal in California since 1996, when voters enacted the Compassionate Use Act. But the industry is largely unregulated, and that fact has encouraged illegal grows.
Cultivators in the state now supply not only the local medical market but also the majority of the nation’s weed. Much of that marijuana is grown clandestinely, with no oversight by local or state officials.
Still, the legal MMJ industry in California takes much of the blame for problems caused by people who break the law, whether it be by starting wildfires, growing pot on public land, or draining drought-plagued streams for irrigation.