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Massive August Complex: Fire Threatening Northern California 'Emerald Triangle' Marijuana Growing Area

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF/AP) -- The massive August Complex Fire -- the largest wildfire outbreak in state history at 794,801 acres and still growing Tuesday -- has advanced toward Northern California's 'Emerald Triangle' of legal and illegal marijuana grows.

The fire, burning in rural Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties, was 30 percent contained with at least 26 structures destroyed. The area is mostly rural, heavily-wooded and has historically been the sources of millions of pounds of legal and illegal marijuana every growing season.

It is nearly double the size of the 2018 Mendocino Complex in Lake and Mendocino counties which previously was the state's latest wildfire outbreak and has exceeded the combined 759,844 acres of the SCU Lightning Complex and LNU Lightning Complex blazes that are nearly contained in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Officials said the flames have already burned around the community of Kettenpom in southern Trinity County. It was threatening to push toward Alder Point in Humboldt County and has burned into the ridges outside Covelo in northern Mendocino County.

Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said although the population of Covelo is officially about 1,500, he estimates there are more than 10,000 people living and working on surrounding cannabis farms. He worries that marijuana workers won't evacuate in time if and when the fire comes.

"People should not be weighing economics with health and safety," Kendall said. "We come into this world buck naked with nothing but the love of our parents. There's nothing material on earth worth losing your life over."

Among the 1,323 firefighters battling the flames was an Army contingent from Washington State and units from across California as well as Montana, Utah, Texas, and New Jersey.

Tragically, a firefighter from Cresson, Texas -- Diana Jones -- was killed when the flames whipped up and she attempted to flee with two other firefighters in a truck. California Highway Patrol spokesman Omar Valdez said that as the truck reversed, it fell about 15 feet down an embankment and hit a tree.

She was not able to escape the vehicle as the fire engulfed it. The two other firefighters got out, but one suffered burns that required hospitalization.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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