La Brea Fire: Cause Traced to Pot Farm Campfire
Cooler temperatures during the weekend help fire crews slow fire's progression, and blaze is now 75 percent contained
A Martin Mars super scooper lifts off from Lake Cachuma after refilling its 7,200-gallon payload Saturday. (William Boyer / Santa Barbara County photo)
The cause of the 8-day-old La Brea Fire has been traced to a cooking fire in the campsite of an illegal marijuana-growing operation, authorities said Saturday night. No arrests have been made but it is believed that the suspects are on foot and still at large in the San Rafael Wilderness.
Monday morning fire officials announced that the La Brea Fire’s acreage total had reached 87,490, and the number of personnel on scene was 2,078.
Weather conditions overnight Sunday did not support the crews’ planned burnout operation, intended to tie Schoolhouse Canyon into Sierra Madre Ridge. However, the fire activity was quiet on the west, north and northeast flanks of the blaze, officials said.
A community meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Cuyama Valley High School, 4500 Highway 166, New Cuyama, to provide a fire update and containment plans.
Ash from the fire is continuing to spread throughout the county and an air-quality watch remains in effect at least through Tuesday, county Public Health Department officials said Monday.
Meanwhile, a Martin Mars super scooper airplane made a historic “landing” at Lake Cachuma on Saturday afternoon and “cautiously optimistic” fire commanders pointed to overall progress in the battle against the wildfire. Sunday night, they downgraded several mandatory evacuation orders.
Flames continue to spread in Los Padres National Forest east of Santa Maria. Crews saved the historic Manzana Schoolhouse after the fire crossed the Sisquoc River on Friday night but the old White Oaks Ranger Station was destroyed. For the first time, however, officials described their outlook as “cautiously optimistic” after extensive fire-line construction and backburns.
In a joint statement Saturday night, the U.S. Forest Service and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department announced that a week-long investigation had determined that a campfire was the source of the 130-square-mile wildfire. The sheriff’s Narcotics Unit confirmed that the campsite at the point of origin was part of a marijuana-growing operation believed to be run by a Mexican drug organization, the statement said. Narcotics officers have been conducting eradication raids in the area.
According to the statement, there is evidence that the unburned marijuana garden area has been occupied within the last several days, after the La Brea Fire ignited. The Narcotics Unit has secured the camp, which was located in remote and rugged terrain. It is believed that the suspects are still within the San Rafael Wilderness, trying to leave the area on foot. Officials have issued a warning not to approach anyone who looks suspicious but to instead contact authorities.
The investigation is ongoing, and forest service special agents and sheriff’s narcotics officers are being assisted by the county Fire Department, CAL FIRE and other local agencies.
Smoke waves from the La Brea Fire gave the sky an artistic pattern Friday night in a photo taken from Elings Park. (Lauren Hanson photo)
Anyone with further information is urged to contact the forest service, the Sheriff’s Department or local law-enforcement agencies. Investigators can be reached through the La Brea Fire tip line at 805.686.5074. Callers may remain anonymous.
About 1 p.m. Saturday, Lake Cachuma had its first-ever visit by a super scooper, county spokesman William Boyer said. The aircraft — the world’s largest scooping water bomber, with a wingspan of 200 feet and a payload of 7,200 gallons — had been using Lake San Antonio north of Paso Robles since midweek.
Boating has been banned temporarily from Cachuma for aircraft operations, although the rest of Cachuma Lake Recreation Area remains open this weekend.
At noon Sunday, Boyer said the Sheriff’s Department downgraded mandatory evacuation orders to warnings for homes and ranches in the following areas:
» Tepusquet Canyon, between Santa Maria Mesa Road and Highway 166
» Colson Canyon, including Blazing Saddles Drive
» Ruiz Canyon
» Buckhorn Canyon Road
» Pine Canyon Road
Residents may return to their homes under an evacuation warning but must be prepared to leave immediately should that status change. All other evacuation advisories are unchanged.
Click here for the latest fire information, or call 805.961.5770 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(Ray Ford map)
on 08.15.09 @ 08:39 PM
So far, most of the fires have been caused by humans in or around trails and backroads. One consequence of fires, is the opening of more trails and firebreaks that give even more access to people. I see an unfortunate feedback here.
on 08.15.09 @ 09:40 PM
Bill et al,
Thanks for scooping up this ignition story like a news super-tanker. Very interesting. I hope those farmers get caught!
on 08.15.09 @ 11:44 PM
Scary. And now are we finally going to PROSECUTE this criminals? What is the carbon footprint of THIS fire?
on 08.16.09 @ 07:57 AM
If it was legal this would not be happening in the first place.
on 08.16.09 @ 07:58 AM
Now, might CA finally build a fence on the southern border!!! What does it take to convince Politicians (not that they have any common sense)! The Washington gangsters will never do it, how about CA? Why is no one reporting about the restrictions on fire fighting in a Wilderness area?
on 08.16.09 @ 08:34 AM
“The sheriff’s Narcotics Unit confirmed that the campsite at the point of origin was part of a marijuana-growing operation believed to be run by a Mexican drug organization”
“Mexican drug organization”???? Why are we tolerating this invasion by a foreign government?
on 08.16.09 @ 09:17 AM
I have a question for your ‘reporter’ of this story. Being the Hawaii Mars just skims the surface of its water source to load via snorkel; why did it land. We get to watch this big bird and her sister Philippine Mars practise their pickup and drop runs.
The only time they land is to refuel or settle in for the night.
Big noisy beauties aren’t they.
[Noozhawk’s note: If we put “landing” in quotes, does that work?]
on 08.16.09 @ 09:48 AM
The aircraft shown in your article is not a Super Scooper. Super Scoopers are CL-415 or CL-215 aircraft. This aircraft is known as the Martin Mars or Scooper 223 or Tanker 223. It is a JRM-3 aircraft.
on 08.16.09 @ 04:06 PM
Did they save the weed?
on 08.16.09 @ 04:39 PM
Will be interesting to see what happens to this group that started an illegal fire compared the the slap on the hand the Tea Fire 10 got for their illegal fire ....
on 08.16.09 @ 07:20 PM
The firefighters are doing an amazing job! I appreciate the maps on this site; have been watching this fire since it started from afar and really do appreciate all the info.
on 08.16.09 @ 10:14 PM
So is the THC in the air? Ha, Just kidding, but seriously ANOTHER fire? This one due to pot growers? Lovely, just lovely…
on 08.17.09 @ 07:43 AM
Could someone explain to me how it is that we can’t control this pot growing in the forests and backcountry of California? Now we have a major fire apparently caused by these bandit potgrowers and they are here from Mexico. This is illegal immigration at its finest. If we catch the culprits should we get them in line for citizenship?
All this for the potheads of the world.
Thanks to our firefighters who have to deal with the evil deeds of these criminals.
on 08.17.09 @ 10:11 AM
When are we going to get out of denial and away from political incorrectness and admit the cost of not enforcing the borders?!?!
on 08.17.09 @ 10:13 AM
So if I inhale the ashes will I get high?
on 08.17.09 @ 10:43 AM
Clearly the time has come to legalize the growing and use of marijuana. The drug cartel will continue to thrive as long as marijuana is illegal.
on 08.17.09 @ 03:50 PM
“The drug cartel will continue to thrive as long as marijuana is illegal.” Or until the borders are enforced potheads can give up their bad habits…I love when illegality is used as an excuse to break the law. “Well if there wasn’t a law I wouldena broke it!” It’s the law’s fault…
on 08.17.09 @ 04:56 PM
It’s a sad day when those who want to legalize marijuana will use a serious fire as a soap box for their cause. Shame on you. I’m with sbnative and illegal fire. Will THIS fire, start by another thoughtless human act, be treated the same or differently than those that started the Tea Fire? When will people learn that they can’t just do whatever they darn well please. There are consequences to doing the wrong thing, at least there should be!!!
on 08.18.09 @ 05:29 PM
-If pot were legal, all these thugs would be put out of business by the government. Why do we waste tax dollars trying to stop people from smoking pot? It obvisously has little or no effect. Legalize It!!!
on 08.19.09 @ 10:43 PM
Send the mexicans home, and kill the gang profits—This is crazy to make drugs so profitable…