Investigators: Loma Fire sparked by portable generator used by marijuana growers

Dan Noyes Image
Friday, August 11, 2017
Investigators: Loma Fire sparked by portable generator used by marijuana growers
Investigators now believe a portable generator used by marijuana growers sparked a wildfire that charred thousands of acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

LOS GATOS, Calif. (KGO) -- Cal Fire now confirms what the ABC7 I-Team reported last year-the fire started at a marijuana grow operation.

Cal Fire investigators also pinpointed the cause of the fire one of three portable generators found at the scene.

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Weeks before the fire, neighbors told ABC7 Investigative Reporter Dan Noyes about marijuana growers in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their concerns about fire danger came true in a devastating way.

The massive 2016 Loma Fire burned for 16 days last September destroying a dozen homes and charring 4500 acres.

Just days after the fire started the ABC7 I-Team revealed the fire originated at a marijuana grow operation on land owned by the then-CEO of a Santa Cruz medical marijuana dispensary.

Cal Fire Division Chief Jim Crawford said, "We determined that the cause is from equipment either a problem with a generator or an electrical cord that was in the vicinity of the generator."

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Chief Crawford told the I-Team Cal Fire has forwarded its investigation to the Santa Clara County District Attorney for possible charges.

Last year the I-Team's Dan Noyes identified the pot farm where the fire started after speaking with residents, growers and a man who works in the marijuana industry.

He told us, "The locals know where it started." And when Dan Noyes asked him. "Where?" He replied, "Right at the grow op that's right at the bottom of the hill right here."

A Facebook Live video posted by a UPS driver pinpointed the spot.


"I was in awe and shock more than anything," Carlos Canche said.

Canche was driving his UPS route when he pulled over and recorded the beginning of the blaze.

"I got here before the firefighters," he told us.

A freeze frame from his video shows two sticks that helped identify the exact spot where Canche had parked to shoot the video.

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I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes shot his own video of the area from that location and sent Sky7 overhead to identify the exact plot of land.

It's the same property neighbors complained about before the fire-even providing the I-Team with Google Earth images. Marijuana grow houses visible in the photos survived the fire.

A check of public records confirms an LLC operated by 41-year-old Andre Segal purchased the property in 2015.

At the time of the fire, Segal was also president of Green Acres Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Santa Cruz.

"There is simply no evidence he did anything wrong," his lawyer told the I-Team.

RELATED: I-Team identifies owner of property where Loma Fire started, pot grower called 'hero'

He declined to be interviewed about Cal Fire's announcement pinpointing the origin and cause of the Loma Fire saying he wants to review Cal Fire's report first.

Sources familiar with the investigation tell the I-Team's Dan Noyes authorities came down hard on Segal.

They executed a search warrant on the property, forcing him to tear out greenhouses and remove recreational vehicles where workers were living because of alleged code violations.

Law enforcement sources tell Dan Noyes the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department has cracked down on other pot growers and there are now far fewer on the Santa Clara County side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. But just over the hill on the Santa Cruz side-the number of pot farms has exploded to meet the increasing demand as marijuana laws change.

Cal Fire says their investigators took 11 months to do a thorough investigation of the 2016 Loma Fire.

"They have investigated numerous people including the landowner if they have been able to reach the landowner. That information and all of that will be provided to the District Attorney's Office as part of their case," Chief Crawford said.

Click here for full coverage on the Loma Fire.

Written and produced by Mark LaMet