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Wildfire Lower Lake California

Wildfire Destroys Small Town, Marijuana Crop

A wildfire allegedly sparked by an arsonist swept through parts of Northern California in August, threatening communities, burning buildings, and destroying at least one farmer’s prized marijuana crop.

James McCauley told the UK’s Daily Mail that he wept when he saw his pot plants covered in pink fire retardant material that killed them and cost him an entire harvest. The grow was legal and provided cannabis to California medical dispensaries.

Police arrested 40-year-old Damin Anthony Pashlik Aug. 15 and charged him with 17 counts of arson, alleging he started the fire that torched more than 175 homes and shops in Lower Lake, Cal. The small Bay Area town is located about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

James McCauley inspects his ruined marijuana crop outside Lower Lake, Cal.
James McCauley inspects his ruined marijuana crop outside Lower Lake, Cal.

“Mr. Pashlik committed a horrific crime and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,” said Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “My thoughts continue to be with the people of Lake County during this difficult time.”

The blaze had already consumed more than six square miles of land as of Aug. 16, causing more than $10 million in damages, Pimlott said. The fire is one in a long string that have broken out during the longest drought in California history.

Thousands of residents flew their homes

High winds rapidly spread the flames, sending thousands of residents fleeing to safety. Many families were living in emergency shelters after losing their homes to the fire.

Firefighters said they had contained just 5 percent of the blaze, which continued to spread. The flames destroyed a significant stretch of historic Main Street in Lower Lake and rained fire retardant material down on McCauley’s outdoor cannabis farm.

Damin Anthony Pashilk
Damin Anthony Pashilk

The Golden State supplies 60 percent of the nation’s cannabis, and most of the state’s plants are grown in Northern California. It isn’t unusual for outdoor gardens to go up in flames, destroying valuable harvests, legal and otherwise. And illicit farmers have been known to make wildfires worse by burning fire breaks to protect their plants.

Officials said in mid-August that the blaze posed no immediate threat to other buildings or communities, and there were no other public complaints of damaged marijuana. No deaths or injuries had been reported.

The fire comes amid a five-year drought, the longest and most severe in California’s recorded history, and temperatures near Lower Lake were expected to remain in the high 90s. Those conditions could spread the fire further and faster.

Cannabis farms have played a controversial role in the politics that surround the drought. Critics have accused both legal and illegal growers of using too much water, sometimes draining natural streams and endangering local species. Industry advocates, however, say they consume relatively little and are adapting their operations to use much less.

Leave a comment and let us know: How would you feel if a wildfire destroyed your cannabis crop?

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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