Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — The largest wildfire in California history is threatening the country’s biggest marijuana-growing region, and authorities are warning people in the area to protect themselves — not their crops — if it comes time to evacuate.
The August Complex Fire has burned through more than 1,100 square miles (2,850 square kilometers) across five counties in Northern California and is on a westward path that threatens the rugged and famed Emerald Triangle, known for its marijuana farms, The Press Democrat reported.
“There are thousands of folks that migrate into Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties every year, and they are not familiar with the territory let alone a massive wildland fire knocking at their door,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents the North Coast.
The region’s rural communities, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of San Francisco, have been rooted in cannabis cultivation for decades. But the same sheltered landscape — thick public and private forest — that gave rise to a black-market pot empire is also likely to sustain flames until significant rains arrive.
The fire, which was only 30% contained as of Tuesday, has already burned around the community of Kettenpom in southern Trinity County. It threatens to push toward Alder Point in Humboldt County and has burned into the ridges outside Covelo in northern Mendocino County, the newspaper reported.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said although the population of Covelo is officially about 1,500, he estimates there are more than 10,000 people living and working on surrounding cannabis farms. He worries that marijuana workers won’t evacuate in time if and when the fire comes.
“People should not be weighing economics with health and safety,” Kendall said. “We come into this world buck naked with nothing but the love of our parents. There’s nothing material on earth worth losing your life over.”
The August Complex Fire is on track to become California’s first million-acre wildfire, which would double the size of the 2018 Mendocino Complex in Lake and Mendocino counties.