CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. - UPDATE 8/4/2016 6:30 PM:
Firefighters battling the Soberanes Fire are running into more than just flames. Authorities said on Thursday they've had four incidents of reported pot grows or growers. The Monterey County Sheriff's Office said they normally bust 12-15 illegal grows a year.
The first happened several days after the wildfire began. The Monterey County Sheriff's Office says four people were tending to a marijuana garden near the fire. The group split into two. One group made their way to authorities, where they admitted to working on a 900-plant grow which was destroyed in the fire.
Roughly around the same time, a group of people were found near Palo Colorado. Their dramatic rescue was caught on tape.
"The second group, reported to be hikers, without any gear, without anything to suggest that is true that they are hikers," Cmdr. John Thornburg said. "So we believe they were tending a garden somewhere in the forest. We have not located that forest and we have reason to believe it's probably been consumed by the fire."
Fire crews later found two duffel bags full of weed, which was later turned over to the Monterey County Sheriff's Office.
A third incident was reported earlier this week involving a bulldozer operator. Authorities believe someone tending another marijuana garden threw a rock at him.
On Wednesday, a fire crew came across what they believed to be a marijuana garden with three men. Following policy, the crew left and contacted authorities.
"We spent approximately six hours looking for people," Thornburg said. "We finally did locate and contact three people. Three people we believe that were there. We identified them, we checked them for anything we could, found no evidence of a crime that we could hold them on or anything else, so they were identified and released at the scene."
In total, nine people were detained but not arrested. There was no evidence linking any of them to a crime. Authorities said none of them were armed.
But all of these incidents could affect firefighting operations. If fire crews stumble upon something they think is suspicious, they leave the area and notify law enforcement. Because they don't know who they'll encounter or if they're armed, they're forced to change their firefighting strategy.
"We may have to change our tactics but as long as our firefighters are safe, as well as the public, then we do what we have to do to increase our safety," Henry Herrera with Cal Fire said.
Crews are also trained to keep an eye out for telltale signs of criminal activity. Such clues are include unauthorized trails or trash in areas not designated as recreational sites.
Firefighters are dealing with more than just flames from the Soberanes Fire. They're also encountering illegal marijuana plots.
KION's Mariana Hicks reports that fire crews have encountered four separate pot grows. Tonight, she'll show us why pot growing is a big concern for crews on the front lines.