Fires

As Ranch Fire roared, men refused to evacuate — they had pot plants to water, cops say

Gary Wertheimer, left, Steven Bell, and Travis Bell were arrested Saturday by Lake County Sheriff’s Department deputies on suspicion of interfering with firefighters and not being authorized to be in an evacuation zone.
Gary Wertheimer, left, Steven Bell, and Travis Bell were arrested Saturday by Lake County Sheriff’s Department deputies on suspicion of interfering with firefighters and not being authorized to be in an evacuation zone. Lake County Sheriff's Office

As firefighters battled a Northern California wildfire on Saturday, they encountered three men in a pickup truck who refused to evacuate, Lake County authorities say.

Firefighters had to divert three air tanker passes trying to prevent the Ranch Fire from engulfing the town of Lucerne as a result, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook.

The men, who firefighters described as “hostile,” were tending a marijuana crop just 20 yards from the fire line, according to the post. When deputies summoned by fire crews arrived, they found the men watering pot plants.

The Mendocino Complex, consisting of the Ranch and River fires, exploded overnight to 24,000 acres and forced limited evacuations in neighboring Lake County earlier Sunday.

Gary Thomas Wertheimer, 41, and Travis Steven Bell, 29, both of Nice; and Steven Marshall Bell, 59, of Redwood Valley were arrested on suspicion of interfering with firefighters and not having authorization to be in an evacuation zone, deputies wrote. They were released with citations.

Travis Bell was photographed by deputies wearing a Redwood Valley Fire Department shirt, but officials with the agency later posted to Facebook to say he had no connection to it.

“The members of this department take our responsibility to serve our community extremely serious and would never condone this behavior,” Redwood Valley fire officials wrote.

The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex, has burned 207,319 acres, according to Cal Fire. The blaze, which began July 27, is 23 percent contained. Together with the River Fire, it has destroyed 130 structures, including 68 homes, and threatens 15,300 structures.

Drone video shows the town Keswick and a nearby neighborhood that were destroyed by the Carr Fire in late July, and a young family gazes over what used to be their home.

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