The massive forest fire that has scorched 333 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park may have been sparked by illegal marijuana growers, according to one fire official in Tuolumne County.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that Todd McNeal, chief of the Twain Harte Fire Department, told a community meeting that it was "highly suspect that there might have been some sort of illicit grove, a marijuana-grow-type thing."
McNeal, who has 23 years of experience with Forest Service, the National Park Service and other agencies, said at the Aug. 23 meeting that investigators know the fire is human caused since there was know lightening in the area.
The fire started Aug. 17 and its exact cause remains under investigation. It is expected to keep burning long after it is fully contained, and recovery will be extensive. Some 7,000 damaged trees next to power lines will need to be removed by utility crews and 800 guardrail posts will need to be replaced on Route 120, a fire fact sheet said.
Nearly a third of the blaze was contained Friday and some small communities in the mountainous area were no longer under evacuation advisories, but smoke descending down into San Joaquin Valley cities was becoming a problem.
The 2-week-old blaze burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno has grown to become the largest U.S. wildfire to date this year and the fifth-largest wildfire in modern California records.