An ever-expanding threat of wildfires is affecting a significant network of California cannabis farms, causing a tumultuous situation in the northern part of the state, as well as concern for some cannabis farmers about their crops.
The so-called Lava Fire has swelled to more than 17,000 acres in northern California as of Wednesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At the start of the week, the fire engulfed more than 13,000 acres. The fire is said to have been ignited by lightning striking a tree late last week, and now the fire continues.
Compounding matters for firefighters has been the summer weather in California, where strong gusts of wind have spread the wildfire’s blaze, while hot and dry conditions have also exacerbated the situations in the dry climate. The office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the state “secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant?(FMAG) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help ensure the availability of vital resources to suppress?the Lava Fire burning in Siskiyou County.”
It has made for a tense situation near the town of Weed, where local cannabis farmers have accused “local authorities and fire agencies let the Lava Fire burn through their properties in the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision on Monday without bothering to try to put it out, blocking them from bringing their own water trucks so they could fight the fire themselves,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
The newspaper reported on Wednesday that authorities have “disputed those charges and said the marijuana farmers blocked roads, threw rocks and forced Cal Fire crews to retreat from the scene.”
Wildfires Picking Up Steam
On Monday, the situation boiled over, with four responding officers shooting and killing a man who allegedly fired on them “as they tried to stop a vehicle at the entrance to a large complex of cannabis farms under evacuation,” The Sacramento Bee also reported.
Allegedly, many of the farmers are of Hmnog and Chinese descent. The man who was fatally shot by officers on Monday was reportedly Hmong.
The farmers assert that “the lack of firefighting response is the latest act of racism against them by Siskiyou County officials, who have for more than a year cracked down on the illegal cannabis farms that have been expanding dramatically on the private lands in the Big Springs area in far Northern California,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
“The fireman just work today only. They don’t do nothing yesterday,” one of the farmers, Michael Thao, told the newspaper. “They’re trying to get us out.”
The sheriff, Jeremiah LaRue, denied that in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.
“In the last few days we’ve had water trucks the growers had that have been blocking roadways, that have prevented Cal Fire from getting in there to fight the fire,” LaRue said. “Rocks were being thrown at fire personnel. Monday night, we had calls from some Cal Fire and other fire personnel that they had people lurking around their vehicles, stopping them and being aggressive, yelling at them. Cal Fire didn’t feel safe, and they pulled out and went to a safe location and communicated with law enforcement.”
Along with the Lava Fire, California is battling two other smaller fires nearby—the Tennant Fire and Beswick Fire.
It is a grim reality for those involved in the West Coast’s bustling marijuana industry. Last year, the devastating wildfire season that wreaked havoc on the region reportedly forced the evacuation of roughly 20 percent of Oregon’s state-licensed cannabis businesses.
The Oregonian newspaper reported at the time that “73 marijuana producers, most of them outdoor farms, have been ordered to evacuate.” It’s a tragedy that wildfire season continues to be devastating for cannabis businesses on the West Coast.