By Marc Arcas
Post Mountain, California, Sep 30 (efe-epa).- The landscape is desolate under an intense red sun, with kilometers of charred trees and an enormous column of smoke stretching out in the distance. In the sector where the biggest wildfire in California’s history still burns, the only sign of life is the green of the marijuana plants.
Arriving by car in the Post Mountain area of northwestern Trinity County, at a spot where a sign advertises the services of a cannabis industry lawyer, the first impression one has is the pungent aroma of marijuana blending with smoke from the fires.
The scene is phantasmagoric. Not a single voice is audible, only the sound of a strong wind that whips the flames and rocks the cannabis leaves that rise above tall wooden fences covered with signs reading “Private property. No Trespassing,” “Area with Video Surveillance” and “Beware of Dog.”
With the arrival of wildfire season each year in the Western United States, its impact on vineyards always make headlines.
Wine-growing is a major economic activity and also makes a substantial contribution to California’s tourism industry, particularly in the northern counties of Napa and Sonoma that promote themselves as the heart of the state’s Wine Country region.
But since cannabis was legalized for recreational use in 2018, a fast-growing hemp industry has emerged in its shadow, with enormous plantations that stretch across the region’s endless hills and are now threatened by the blazes.
“I’m not happy at all,” Sam, an owner of a small hemp plantation in the Post Mountain area, told Efe, adding that he is more worried about thieves than the fires.
Preferring not to be identified by his last name despite running a perfectly legal operation, he spoke to Efe while resting in a folding chair in an evacuation area located a half hour to the north in the small town of Hayfork.
Post Mountain is not a town but a series of isolated houses and plots of land amid the hills, a remote area connected by a network of steep, unpaved rural roads that are only passable by all-terrain vehicle.
Its mostly young residents, many of whom are immigrants from Southeast Asia, refused to comply with evacuation orders until the last minute because, like Sam, they fear their crops could be targeted by thieves.
And those concerns are not unfounded considering there has been a sharp rise in robberies this year in areas that were evacuated amid the worst wildfire season in the state’s history.
The thieves have targeted people’s homes, crops and even firefighters’ vehicles, committing those crimes even though the area of the blazes is off-limits to all but emergency and law enforcement personnel and the media.
The so-called August Complex wildfire that continues to affect Northern California’s marijuana country started during a lightning storm six weeks ago and has grown to become the largest in California’s history, having already torched 379,612 hectares (937,314 acres).
Sam, meanwhile, told Efe he is struggling to cope with the uncertainty, saying he doesn’t know when he will be able to return to his marijuana plantation and what he will find.
“This is horrible. It’s how I make a living!” he said while getting up from his folding chair to use a portable restroom at the evacuation camp. EFE-EPA