California Rim Fire: Yes, You Can Blame Dirty Hippies For This 235,000 Acre Blaze

Okay, so maybe James Franco's stash wasn't to blame for the blaze that nearly trashed Yosemite over the past few weeks. But it might be his dealer's fault.

The fourth-largest wildfire in California history might have been the result of "some kind of marijuana-type grove thing," according to a recently surfaced video of Twain Harte Fire Chief Todd McNeal addressing his community.

The ongoing California Rim fire near Yosemite National Park — which has consumed over 235,000 acres and cost the state nearly $39 million to date — is around 70% contained, a momentous leap forward from Friday's estimate of 35% containment by the U.S. Forest Service. The Rim fire, one of the most disastrous and widespread in California's memory, threatened the safety of the park and has raised serious questions about both the role of climate change and shrinking federal management budgets. 111 structures have been destroyed and a combined state and federal cost of $60 million is expected.

But according to McNeal, "We don't know the exact cause ... [But we] 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 went on to comment.

Watch the video below:


Smokers aren't exactly known for quick reaction times, but if linked to a large-scale grow operation, there are major implications beyond whether or not a midnight toker failed to notice a few stay embers settling in the grass.

For example, it wouldn't be the first time marijuana farms have caused serious fire safety in the area, putting the term "natural disaster" to the test. In 2009, a fire that devastated 90,000 acres was set in Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara was linked to a campfire near a 30,000-plant marijuana plantation in a remote valley. An AK-47 assault rifle was found at the farm, which was reportedly run by Mexican drug cartels.

"We know that these illegal pot growers are out in our forests, and I think [the Rim fire] just wiped out a whole bunch of them," said Randy Hanvelt, Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors chairman told Mercury News. "It's a problem in all the Sierra forests ... When we find them, we pull out like 20,000 plants at a time."

"It's a tough place to get to," he added. "You don't get there by accident."

McNeal's theory is certainly plausible. Large-scale cross-border marijuana farming operations are common throughout the Southwest. Stricter border controls and the difficulty of transportation (marijuana is much bulkier than other drugs) have encouraged cartels to set up large-scale farming operations in remote parts of the U.S., often in the proximity of national or state parks.

But authorities were keeping mum, saying the fire's origins were under investigation.

"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 a U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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