The Rim fire, which has burned into Yosemite National Park and threatened a vital water supply to San Francisco, was started by a hunter who let an illegal fire “escape,” the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday.
The fire was not started by a marijuana growing operation, despite rumors to the contrary, the U.S. Forest Service’s investigation unit and the Tuolumne County district attorney’s office concluded. The hunter has been identified and his name is being withheld pending further investigation, officials said.
The hunter has not been arrested.
The Rim fire began Aug. 17 near Jawbone Ridge in the Stanislaus National Forest north of the Tuolumne River off California 120. It was 80% contained and wasn't expected to be fully under control for another two weeks.
It has burned 237,341 acres, or 370 square miles. About a quarter of the fire – and where it continues to spread – is within Yosemite National Park. More than 5,100 firefighters were battling the flames at their peak.
The rumor that marijuana growers may have been involved began when Twain Harte Fire and Rescue Chief Todd McNeal told a community meeting that the blaze was definitely human-caused.
On Aug. 23, McNeal said the fire started in a section of the Stanislaus National Forest that is inaccessible by foot or vehicle and that it was "highly suspected" that an illegal "marijuana-grow type of thing" had somehow sparked the blaze.
But Snyder said that at this point in their review, investigators have not found any evidence that marijuana was grown in the area where the fire probably started Aug. 17.
There would also have been no real access for illegal growers, Snyder said, and there was no probable water source evident.
"Most of these gardens, they need access ... they need to be able to get in there ... and there are no roads in this area," Snyder said. "You need a water source ... this fire started considerably above the river."
The Rim fire has destroyed 111 buildings, including 11 residences. It has so far cost $72 million to fight.