Someone set 7 fires in Trabuco area; pot farm found nearby

Someone set 7 fires in Trabuco area; pot farm found nearby

17 June 2009

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A series of fires that were spotted in the forest Tuesday have been contained, but officials said someone is trying to intentionally ignite a large wild fire in the Trabuco Canyon area.

While fire crews responded to the fires Tuesday afternoon, a marijuana-growing operation was also found in the forest, though park officials do not believe at the moment that the illegal farm is connected to a series of fires that have been sparked in the forest recently.

In the past four weeks, four fires have been spotted in the Trabuco Canyon area – including seven fires that were ignited a short distance from each other Tuesday afternoon, said Brian Harris, spokesman for the Cleveland National Forest.

“Someone is interested in starting fires there for some reason,” Harris said.

The seven fires, which are being counted as one incident, have burned less than an acre of an area near the marijuana farm, Harris said. Evidence seems to point out that they were intentionally set by the same person or persons.

“They were very close, in some cases within 50 feet of each other,” Harris said. “A stone’s throw.”

Investigators are at the scene of the fire today, looking for clues as to who started the fire and how the fire was started, he said.

Fire crews responded to the brush fire just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, including two helicopters from the Orange County Fire Authority that were dispatched northeast of Bell View Trail. The fire was reported in an inaccessible area and fire crews were expected to be airlifted to the area.

The fire burned less than an acre and was contained by 8 p.m., Harris said, although it has not been completely extinguished.

Law enforcement officials within the U.S. Forest Service have also been called to the scene to investigate the marijuana plants, Harris said. It is unknown exactly how large the marijuana farm is.

When marijuana farms are found in the area, firefighting efforts can be hampered because of the dangers associated with the farms, Harris said, including armed guards. In recent years, as drug traffickers move to grow the illicit drug within the U.S. instead of smuggling it across borders, marijuana farms have been found in several national forests. The problem has been prevalent in areas in forests in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, as well as the Cleveland National Forest, Harris said.

Fire officials do not believe the recent fires in the forest are associated with the marijuana plants, Harris said.

“It’s more likely a coincidence,” he said.

In the past four weeks, the U.S. Forest Service has responded to four fires in the forest – all near the Trabuco Canyon area, Harris said. The last one was reported Saturday in the Holy Jim area.

Whether the previous fires are connected to Tuesday’s fire is unknown, Harris said, but likely.

“We do have someone out there starting fires,” he said. “At this time we don’t have any suspects or persons of interest.”

Meanwhile, an unrelated brush fire that broke out in Camp Pendleton is expected to be contained by noon today, or possibly sooner, officials said this morning.

So far, the brush fire has burned about 150 acres since 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon when the fire was first reported in the southwest end of the base. Military officials evacuated several buildings located near the base for roughly three hours – buildings which were described as primarily office buildings.

No structures have been damaged and no injuries have been reported so far, said Staff Sgt. Jesse Mora, media chief for the base. The brush fire is 50 percent contained so far, he said.

The fire is believed to have started on a hillside across from Ranch House on Vandegrift Road. The cause is still under investigation, Mora said.

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