TUOLUMNE COUNTY — A deer hunter — not pot growers — started the Rim fire that has obliterated 237,341 acres of land in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s law enforcement and investigations division.
The 383-square-mile fire, now at 80 percent containment and with a running tab of $81 million, began in remote, steep terrain in the Jawbone Ridge area east of Groveland on the afternoon of Aug. 17, and quickly spread out of control.
Aug. 17 was the opening day of the archery deer season in the region.
Ray Mooney, a Forest Service public information officer based out of Vallejo, said the investigation is ongoing and than while a suspect has been determined, there have been no arrests made thus far. The hunter’s name was not released as the investigation continues. The Tuolumne County District Attorney’s office, also involved in the investigation, declined to comment.
The Forest Service statement further dispells the widespread rumor that the catastrophic blaze was caused by pot growers. Officials said there is no indication the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana operations on public lands, nor were there any marijuana sites located near the origin of the fire.
The fire at one point seriously threatened the communities of Groveland, Pine Mountain Lake, Big Oak Flat to the west, and Tuolumne City and communities along the Highway 108 corridor. Nearly 2,500 structures remain in jeopardy. The blaze has destroyed 111 structures, including 11 homes, along with summer camps.
Some 3,975 firefighters continue to work on the fire, which is likely larger than the listed acreage because mechanical problems prohibited infrared equipment from updating the size of the fire area.