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Sadly these pot farms (many run by cartels) are all over (esp out west here) and they're destroying pristine areas of our National Parks with chemicals, diverting streams, etc. If this was a campfire or chemical fire near one of their groves I'd imagine they'd do everything they could to put it out to save their harvest (unless they'd already harvested) -- but... (sigh). Investigators will eventually find the cause but totally sucks.
Investigators searching for answers into what caused the massive wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park have made some headway, fire officials said Friday.
Most authorities are mum about the details, but one fire official in Tuolumne County offered a tantalizing clue when he recently told a community meeting that the fire was likely caused by marijuana growers.
Todd McNeal, a fire chief in Twain Harte, one of the towns affected by the 219,000-acre (88,630 hectare) inferno, said investigators had not pinpointed the cause of the blaze.
"We don't know the exact cause," McNeal was quoted as telling a community meeting.
However, he added it was "highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing."
"We know it's human caused. There was no lightning in the area," he said.
His remarks, made on Aug. 23, were recorded and posted on YouTube in a video that has gotten surprisingly little attention. (Video at bottom)
Officially, authorities were saying little.
"The cause is still under investigation. There has been progress in the case, but we can't share any additional details at this time," said Stanton Florea, a spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Rim Fire began Aug. 17 in a remote area of Stanislaus National Forest called Jawbone Ridge, far from any paved road. Smoke from the blaze has drifted so far that satellites are measuring it thousands of miles away over Canada and the Great Lakes -- and in traces over Europe.
As of Friday, the fire was 35 percent contained with over 5,000 firefighters battling the flames; fire officials are estimating full containment on Sept. 20.
Over the past decade, the Forest Service and rural police have reported an increasing number of huge marijuana plantations being found in national forests across California and other states. The operations are run by Mexican drug cartels and are often guarded by armed lookouts, authorities say.
The growers have shot wildlife, rerouted streams and poisoned parks and forests with pesticides. They also have started fires including a 2009 fire that burned 90,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
LiveScience reported back in 2011 the forestry service had seen serious pot-growing operations sprout in 67 national forests in 20 states, a steadily rising number due to increased acceptance of marijuana use.
"The Mexican cartels and other growers began to think to themselves that they could make more money and run less risk if they were to grow it stateside," Warren Eth, a lawyer who wrote a review of marijuana cultivation in national forests, told LiveScience. Increasing security at national borders could have played a role in U.S. marijuana cultivation as well, he said.
"There've always been people who use the parks to do bad things, be it moonshiners or marijuana growers," Eth said. "National parks and forests are vast lands that are sparsely policed. In some areas there is one park ranger for every 100,000 acres. No one can possibly police or patrol that area."
Photo: USFS - Mike McMillan
Below is video of the community meeting with Chief Todd McNeal of Twain Harte Fire (McNeal has been on the Fire line as Division Crew Supervisor since the beginning of The Rim Fire)