A wildfire that erupted Friday in rural California has now scorched more than 17,000 acres, and could threaten a network of thousands of marijuana micro farms as it continues to spread during the Pacific Northwest’s deadly heatwave.
The so-called Lava Fire began last Friday when a lightning strike hit a tree and sparked a small fire in a remote area of an old lava flow east of the city of Weed, according to the Sacramento Bee.
More than 470 firefighters on the ground and in the air and 800 Forest Service personnel are continuing to battle the Lava Fire, which has injured two firefighters.
The area has been under a red-flag warning for fires due to high winds and low humidity, as temperatures in the Pacific Northwest reach 110-degrees.
The Lava Fire has grown to cover 17,591 acres of land in northern California, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Department reports, and is just 19 percent contained as it inches closer to to the massive network of marijuana farms in Lake Shastina and Mount Shasta Vista subdivision.
Siskiyou County has banned large-scale marijuana cultivation, but thousands of pot greenhouses have sprung up since the drug was legalized in the state.
The network of micro-farms is mostly run by Hmong and Chinese families, and police efforts to shut them down have been countered with claims of racial discrimination.
There are now thousands of people tending to somewhere between 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses in the area, the Bee reports.
At least 8,000 people have been evacuated from the area as of Monday afternoon, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Two other fires have popped up nearby, including the Tenant Fire and the Beswick Fire, though they are not as large as the Lava Fire.
The Lava Fire has spread to more than 17,000 acres and threatens a huge network of marijuana greenhouses in Lake Shastina
The heatwave continued on Thursday, with the National Weather Service warning residents of heat-related illnesses as the high temperatures mix with the smoke from the fires
The Juniper Motel, an abandoned business, burns in the Tennant Fire near the city of Weed
Smoke poured into the sky from the slopes of Mt. Shasta looking east from Highway 97
A US Forest Service forest technician burns off fuel ahead of a portion of the Lava Fire
A truck is seen burning in the Tennant Fire on Tuesday as the fire continued to spread
The historic scorching temperatures are the result of a high-pressure jet stream known as a ‘heat dome,’ which is essentially trapping the hot weather in place. The high temperatures have caused hundreds of deaths in Canada in the last five days.
Federal officials say California’s fire season is already outpacing last year’s – which was the worst on record.
On Monday, police shot and killed a man they say opened fire on them when trying to drive through a wildfire evacuation zone to get to one of the marijuana farms.
‘They made contact with the driver. And at some point, the driver exhibited a firearm, a handgun, and pointed it at the officers,’ Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told the Bee. ‘Based upon preliminary information, it appears that there might have been a couple rounds fired from the suspect´s firearm.’
The evacuation orders remained in effect as of Tuesday, as the Lava Fire burned brush and timber in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
‘We do no know what structures have burned down and the status of many areas,’ the sheriff’s office told USA Today.
The area has only recently recovered from the 2014 Boles fire, according to the Sacramento Bee, which burned more than 150 homes and buildings in Weed, California.
Ronald Beau Marshall was convicted for starting the fire, and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in 2016.
The Lava Fire burned in front of Mount Shasta as a firefighting helicopter prepared to refill its water basket on Tuesday
A helicopter equipped with a hose for fighting fires dropped water on the Lava Fire
Local residents watched as a myriad of aircrafts dropped water and retardant on the Lava Fire
Some Hmong brought in their own water tank truck to help put out the hot spots in their marijuana greenhouse during the Lava Fire on Tuesday
The Lava Fire is located just about 25 miles from another wildfire, the Tennant Fire
The Beswick Fire, covering 118 acres has been 75 percent contained as of Wednesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Department, while the Tennant Fire, covering 8,159 acres was 6 percent contained.
U.S. Forest Service officials for Shasta-Trinity said the Tenant Fire was located just 25 miles from the Lava Fire.
Members of the Golden Eagles Hotshots, California’s only Bureau of Indian Affairs crew, also helped fight the Lava blaze and some Hmong tried putting out the fires in their greenhouses themselves.
The crews had thought they had contained the fire by Friday afternoon, but about four hours later, residents saw smoke in the direction of the fire as it reignited.
That smoke could be seen as far as 100 miles away in Medford, Oregon.
The Golden Eagles Hotshots were seen entering the blaze on Tuesday
An Air National Guard C-130 drops retardant at the Lava Fire just outside of the city of Weed
Members of the Golden Eagles Hotshots, California’s only Bureau of Indian Affairs crew, walk into an active area of the Lava Fire amidst a swarm of flies
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that the state had received a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fight the Lava Fire.
‘If you’re in the area, please stay safe, and listen to local official warnings,’ he wrote.
Newsom has also proposed spending $2 billion on emergency preparedness for the wildfire season, according to The Hill.
But officials worry that the wildfire season may only get worse as the heat continues amidst a drought and high winds.
Federal officials have warned that the wildfire season is already outpacing last year’s, which was the worst on record in California, with 4,152 fires reported in the state as of June 28.
‘We’re anticipating a very busy season, unfortunately,’ U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson told the LA Times, asking residents to ‘recreate carefully and avoid starting campfires or using fireworks ahead of July 4, as millions of people in the Pacific Northwest remain under excessive heat warnings through Saturday.
The Pacific Northwest has seen record-breaking heat from June 26 through June 29
The sweltering temperatures are being caused by a heat dome of static high-pressure hot air which traps the heat in one location
The area has already seen four day seen four-days straight of record-setting heat, from June 26 though June 29, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as temperatures soared over 100-degrees.
NOAA attributed the heat to a high pressure ‘heat dome’ system that is stronger than had ever been observed in the area and ‘sat over the region for several days, unwilling to move like a stubborn dog on a walk.’
The National Weather Service called the event ‘historic, dangerous, prolonged and unprecedented,’ with some scientists calling it a one in 1,000 year event.
Temperatures were expected to cool off on Thursday, but are still ranging from 93 to 103 degrees in northern California, where smoke could combine with the heat.
Prolonged exposure could result in heat-related illnesses, the NWS warns, with at least 13 people dying suddenly since Friday in Vancouver and hundreds more perishing throughout British Columbia.
Washington state, meanwhile, recorded at least 16 deaths related to the heatwave, including two who died of hyperthermia as their bodies overheated.