Fires

Lake County’s Rocky Fire sparked at an illegal pot grow

Video: Michael Rousseau makes trip to see Rocky fire damage near his home

Lake County resident Michael Rousseau was evacuated - twice - because of the Rocky fire. He describes having to deal with the evacuations and living in an area of fire danger. Video by Hector Amezcua, The Sacramento Bee
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Lake County resident Michael Rousseau was evacuated - twice - because of the Rocky fire. He describes having to deal with the evacuations and living in an area of fire danger. Video by Hector Amezcua, The Sacramento Bee

The faulty water heater that sparked the Rocky Fire in Lake County last year was at the site of an illegal marijuana grow operation, said Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

The Department of of Forestry and Fire Protection determined last August that the Rocky Fire, which began in late July and lasted more than two weeks, charring 45,000 acres in its wake, was started by a water heater that had failed, causing flammable liquids and nearby vegetation to catch fire.

That vegetation referred to by the department in last year’s investigation findings was identified as roughly 100 marijuana plants, which were being illegally grown on the site, Tolmachoff said Wednesday. The faulty water heater was strapped to a tree in an area that was not clear of brush and grass, she added.

“It was set up like a camping area or outdoor space,” she said of the marijuana grow site. She added that the flammable liquids were likely used to grow the plants.

The new details surrounding last year’s blaze come as firefighters continue to battle the Clayton Fire, also in Lake County. The Clayton Fire was at 40 percent containment Wednesday, with 3,929 acres claimed by the fire.

Cal Fire officials announced the arrest of Damin Anthony Pashilk , 40, Monday night, who is suspected of starting the Clayton Fire, and well as other fires in the area. He was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Lakeport courtroom and faced 19 counts, including aggravated arson, arson of forestland and arson with damages in excess of $7 million.

Last week, Cal Fire officials said the deadly Valley Fire that roared through Lake County last fall was sparked by a faulty do-it-yourself electrical connection, set up to power an outdoor hot tub in the tiny community of Cobb. Investigators said the blaze, which killed four people and chewed through 76,000 acres, did comparatively little damage to the homeowner’s property.

Tolmachoff said an investigation into the Rocky Fire is still underway. No arrests have been made in connection to the blaze.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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