A California man started a dangerous wildfire to protect his illegal cannabis farm, police said.
Juan Ramos Silva, a 49-year-old resident of Lower Lake in Northern California, was arrested in early August and accused of intentionally starting part of the so-called Jerusalem fire, which had burned more than 5,000 acres by Aug. 10.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Silva lit a backfire to keep his marijuana plants from burning in the Jerusalem fire. He faces charges of unlawfully causing a forest fire and setting a backfire.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office said the blaze was set on the evening of Aug. 9 in a sparsely populated rural area outside Middletown. Deputies found a large marijuana farm on Silva’s property near the origin of the backfire, said sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brooks.
Witnesses told deputies Silva lit the fire, Brooks said, and Silva admitted to the backfire, telling deputies he was trying to block the Jerusalem fire from reaching his plants.
A controlled burn
The blaze was started to “protect his plants, not his residence,” Brooks said. Silva, who told deputies he once worked as a firefighter in Mexico, “attempted to conduct a controlled burn on the back of his property to protect it from burning.”
Silva joins a growing list of Californians arrested on arson charges during a hot, bone-dry summer. Four others were busted as of early August.
“Especially now with the dry conditions from the drought, we will absolutely not tolerate arson of any type and will track down those suspected of causing harm to our communities,” said CalFire Chief Ken Pimlott.
Critics of the cannabis industry have accused growers of starting fires and sapping water during the worst dry spell in the state’s history. The vast majority of all fires are started by people, said Amy Head, spokeswoman for CalFire.
Worst drought in California history
“If you live in California, you need to be prepared,” she said. “The drought is really playing a role on how this fire season turns out.”
The Jerusalem fire is one of many to scorch California. One recent blaze roared across an active freeway outside Los Angeles and sent stranded motorists running for their lives.
Head explained that the Jeusalem fire, like others, has used a combination of dry conditions, abundant brush, and remote geography to destroy a huge swath of land. The fire covered 5,000 acres in less than a day.
Firefighters were still battling the much larger Rocky blaze nearby when the Jerusalem fire broke out. Officials were investigating both fires.
Recent wildfires, including the Rock and Jerusalem fires, have forced evacuations and burned dozens of homes. Authorities are combating the arid, fire-friendly conditions by enforcing unprecedented limits on residential and commercial water use.