Three men were arrested on Saturday after they refused to leave a fire evacuation zone in Northern California and continued to water their marijuana plants forcing the firefighters to abandon plans to drop water in the area. The arrests were made as the men hindered firefighters’ efforts to control the massive blaze which has now been deemed as the largest wildfire in the state’s history.
The men, 41-year-old Gary Wertheimer, 59-year-old Steven Bell and 29-year-old Travis Bell, were found by officials watering a marijuana crop, nearly 20 yards from the fire, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office added that the men were arrested on suspicion of interfering with firefighters and not having authorization to be in an evacuation zone.
Firefighters in the region were forced to divert three very large air tanker passes as they battled the blaze trying to keep it from reaching the town of Lucerne because the “hostile” men had not evacuated the area. All the three men involved in the incident were later released with citations, according to reports.
State officials on Monday said that the Mendocino Complex fire in California is the largest active wildfire in the state’s history as the blaze has rapidly spread and scorched 283,800 acres of land — an area nearly the size of Los Angeles.
The Mendocino Complex Fire, comprising of two fires in nearby areas, surpassed last year’s Thomas Fire in the region which was declared as the largest in state history in 2017.
Firefighters are currently battling blazes at 16 locations across the state as the hot weather, low humidity and strong winds are making their job tougher. Over 14,000 firefighters and hundreds of army personnel are involved in the firefighting efforts across the state.
At least seven people have been killed in the deadly blaze till now in the northern region of California and the wildfires have destroyed over 1,000 homes.
National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley had reportedly warned that it does not appear that the conditions will improve any time soon as temperatures as high as 43C are being forecast in some of the affected regions.
A deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), Scott McLean, on Monday said that the wildfires this year are “extremely fast, extremely aggressive, extremely dangerous.”
“Look how big it got, just in a matter of days… Look how fast this Mendocino Complex went up in ranking. That doesn’t happen. That just doesn’t happen,” McLean said.