Andrew Lopas has trouble sleeping. He catches what shut eye he can out of a minivan with his girlfriend and two pit bull terriers after a fire destroyed his home on a marijuana farm in Santa Rosa on Oct. 8.
He’s lucky to be alive. Like a “giant blowtorch,” flames ripped over a ridge, burned trees like matches and swept through his 12-acre farm, burning 900 marijuana plants.
“It looked kind of like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ except there were fireballs all around us,” Lopas said.
The deadliest wildfires in California history have been burning since Oct. 8, killing at least 42 people and destroying thousands of homes, The Associated Press reported. The wind-whipped fires swept through parts of seven counties in California’s wine country.
Lopas is among the tens of thousands of people drifting back to their neighborhoods to take stock of what was lost.
Lopas, who was part of a marijuana collective in Northern California that grew pot for medicinal use across the state, is devastated, but hasn’t lost hope.
“I need to get by day to day,” he said. “We’re building from the ground up.”
He said he’d been through federal raids and fires before, but hadn’t seen anything like the most recent brush fires.
“Never seen one move so fast and so hot,” he said. “I was just in awe.”
The loss comes at a particularly tough time for Lopas.
He was getting set up to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medicinal use on Jan. 1 under a new law. That’s when state officials begin issuing licenses to marijuana businesses under Prop. 64, which governs the use of recreational marijuana and streamlines rules for medical use.
Some 34 pot farms were burned in the fires, mostly in Mendocino and Santa Rosa, said Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the California Growers Association, an organization that works to promote and protect marijuana growers in the state.
The farms, about about a quarter of an acre on average, were located in remote places. Some of those working on the farms lost their homes and livelihoods. None had insurance because marijuana is illegal federally.
“Our focus as an organization is helping to ensure they don’t fall down,” Allen said. “We’re still figuring out what that looks like. We’re going to need to raise a lot money to help these folks out.”