The past few weeks have been stressful ones for California Firefighters in the Lake, Yolo, and Colusa County areas, as they have been battling the “Rocky Fire”, where 70,000 acres have burned, and over 100 homes and other structures have been destroyed. Residents have been evacuated, over 1400 firefighters from all over that state have been battling the blaze, and Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency. And just as this fire is nearly completely contained, a new fire has arisen, dubbed the “Jerusalem Fire” after the Jerusalem Valley area in south Lake County, between Middletown and Lower Lake.
While resources have shifted to try to gain control of this 5,000 acre blaze, which has now grown to 12,000 acres overnight, area residents have again been told to evacuate from areas at risk. One man, however, had greater concerns. He wanted to save his precious marijuana crop.
On Sunday, August 9, as the Jerusalem fire was initially growing to 3000 acres, Lake County Sheriff’s deputies were conducting mandatory evacuations of the residents in the Jerusalem Grade and Jerusalem Valley area. According to Steve Brooks of the Sheriff’s Department, they noticed a new blaze had ignited near them at the 15000 block of Spruce Grove Road. They approached the area, and found a home at the origin with a large marijuana grow on the property, within 50 feet of the house. Witnesses at the scene told the deputies that the fire had been deliberately set by the property owner, 49-year-old Juan Ramos Silva.
As evacuations proceeded, the deputies also located Silva, who admitted to setting the fire, claiming that he was trying to prevent the larger fire from getting to his home. He explained that he himself was once a professional firefighter back in Mexico years ago, and knew how to create a controlled burn to protect an area from the larger fire. The deputies did notice that the burned area Silva had created was going to be more effective in protecting the marijuana plants than his home. Additionally, Silva’s actual residence is reported to be in the main town of Lower Lake, some 10 miles north of the marijuana crop.
Silva was forcibly evacuated, and taken to the County’s Hill Road Correctional Facility at the north side of Clear Lake, which is not currently in a fire danger zone, and booked him for arson to a structure or forest on Sunday, August 9. He was released on $20,000 bail the next day. Once the Jerusalem Valley area is safe, Sheriff’s narcotics agents will no doubt do at least as much damage to Silva’s crop that the fire would have done.