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Wildfire Caused by Illegal Grow? Not Quite

Speculation by a California fire chief that a massive wildfire around Yosemite National Park was set by someone growing illegal pot turned out to be false.

The Real Cause of The Rim Fire

The fire, as it happens, was caused by a hunter who set an illegal fire, the U.S. Forest Service said on Sept. 5. Officials have not released any details of why the hunter set the fire or how it got out of control.

The Rim Fire, as it has come to be known, is now the third largest in California’s history, consuming nearly 400 square miles of forest in and around Yosemite. More than 100 structures have burned, including 11 homes. Thousands of firefighters are still battling the blaze.

Because of the high risk of wildfire, the Forest Service prohibited fires outside developed campsites more than a week before the blaze started.

About two weeks before officials announced the true cause of the fire, Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department told a community group he suspected an illegal pot grow was to blame.


McNeal speculated that because there was no lightning at the time the fire started, it must have been man-made.

“We don’t know the exact cause,” he said. “Highly suspect it might have been some sort of illegal grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing, but it doesn’t really matter at this point.”

Marijuana Growers Starting Wildfires?

Marijuana grows are a common problem in federal parks, where growers find remote wilderness corners to plant and harvest their crop. They typically use pesticides and poisons that are toxic to wildlife. And they often leave behind massive amounts of trash.

But they’re not known for sparking wildfires. In fact, the three leading causes of forest fires are equipment problems, such as a lawnmower blade hitting a rock and throwing up sparks, burning of debris and arson.

MEDMARIJUANAOfficials have not announced any arrests in the Rim Fire, and they’ve withheld the hunter’s name while the investigation is underway. Only bow hunting is allowed in the Yosemite area this time of year, and only for bear and deer.

A Little California Wildfire History

California’s largest fire to date, the Cedar Fire, occurred in 2003 in the Cleveland National Forest outside San Diego. In that case, a deer hunter got lost and set a rescue fire that spread out of control. In 2005 the hunter, Sergio Martinez, received six months in a work furlough program and five years probation, plus nearly 1,000 hours community service.

That fire killed 15 people, burned almost 430 square miles and burned more than 2,200 homes. The second-largest wildfire in California history, the Marble-Cone fire, burned nearly 300 square miles in Big Sur high country in 1977.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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