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BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE
Antipot helicopter caused California forest fire.

by Preston Peet- for High Times

posted August 16, 2002

“This has got to be the very worst marijuana-related damage done in this state in my entire lifetime.” -- Dale Gieringer, California NORML

A forest fire that burned out of control for almost two weeks and devastated over 50,000 acres near San Diego was caused by a helicopter looking for pot farms, a California Department of Forestry investigation has concluded.

“A California National Guard helicopter was in the area looking for drugs, and clipped a power line, which caused a spark which started the fire,” said Martie Perkins, fire information officer for the department. The helicopter was working with a DEA anti-drug task force, out looking for marijuana grow operations.

Called the Pines fire, the blaze started on July 29 outside the town of Julian, about 40 miles northeast of San Diego. By the time it was brought under control, it had burned through 56,500 acres of land, turning 37 homes, 116 barns and other outbuildings, and 161 vehicles into cinders, for an estimated $10 million in damage. Between 500 and 1,000 people were evacuated, and 24 firefighters injured.

Fighting the fire took almost 2,700 firefighters, 17 helicopters and 10 air tankers, with the final cost estimated at $21 million.

Perkins noted that the San Diego County Animal Control has been very helpful with rescuing and sheltering pets, but that the outlook for the wild animals in the area is not good. “They run, they do whatever instinct tells them. Sometimes they burrow in to an area where they shouldn’t burrow into and they die in the fire. It also takes out their habitat, so that for the ones who do survive, their habitat is wrecked.”

The National Guard helped put out the fire its antimarijuana pilots apparently started, but has not finished its internal investigation of the incident. The helicopter missions were immediately grounded in a “safety stand down” after the accident and were not back in the air as of Aug. 8. “All we know is that we did have a helicopter that was on a mission in that vicinity at the same time in which they believe the fire started,” says Major Kim Oliver of the National Guard.

“As far as I know, they were out there looking for marijuana,” Don Thornhill of the DEA Task Force tells High Times.

“I guess it just goes to show how dangerous marijuana is,” says Dale Gieringer of California NORML. “This has got to be the very worst marijuana-related damage done in this state in my entire lifetime.”

“There’s no doubt that most of the outdoor marijuana-eradication efforts are not only a waste of money to begin with,” says Allen St. Pierre, head of the NORML Foundation, “but the immense property and environment damage that has been caused by this marijuana-eradication program in that forest is so many times greater of the value of any illegal marijuana found there. This is another gross excess in the War on Some Drugs.”

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