TUOLUMNE COUNTY (CBS13/AP) – The Rim Fire was caused by an illegal fire started by a hunter, the U.S. Forest Service reports.
A hunter was in a remote area of Tuolumne County when he allowed an illegal fire to “escape,” according to an agency statement on Thursday.
There is no indication the hunter was involved with cultivating marijuana illegally. There were no pot grows were found near the source of the fire.
The hunter, whose name is being withheld, has not been arrested, pending further investigation.
The wildfire has consumed more than 371 square miles or 237,341 acres of forest in and around Yosemite National Park, officials said.
The fire was 80 percent contained Wednesday. But crews don’t expect full containment before Sept. 20 because the portion of the fire burning inside the park is headed toward granite outcroppings that will act as a natural firebreak but won’t be classified as technical containment.
Officials said 111 structures, including 11 homes, have been destroyed. More than 4,300 firefighters are still battling the blaze.
Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department told a community group recently that there was no lightning in the area, so the fire must have been caused by humans. He said he suspected it might have caused by an illicit marijuana growing operation.
But the U.S Forest Service said on Thursday no marijuana cultivation sites were located near the origin of the fire.
California’s largest fire on record, a 2003 blaze in the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego, was sparked by a novice deer hunter who became lost and set a signal fire in hope of being rescued.
Sergio Martinez was sentenced to six months in a work-furlough program, 960 hours of community service and five years of probation in 2005.
The so-called Cedar Fire burned nearly 430 square miles, caused 15 deaths and destroyed more than 2,200 homes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.