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Hunter blamed in Yosemite blaze

No charges filed; 371 square miles turned into ruins

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. – A gigantic wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park was caused by an illegal fire set by a hunter, the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday.

The agency said there is no indication the hunter was involved with illegal marijuana cultivation, which a local fire chief had speculated as the possible cause of the blaze.

No arrests have been made, and the hunter’s name was being withheld pending further investigation, according to the Forest Service.

The Forest Service gave no details on how the illegal fire escaped the hunter’s control.

The Rim Fire began Aug. 17 in an isolated area of the Stanislaus National Forest and has burned nearly 371 square miles – one of the largest wildfires in state history.

Officials said 111 structures, including 11 homes, have been destroyed. Thousands of firefighters have battled the blaze, which at one point threatened more than 4,000 structures and is now 80 percent contained.

Chief Todd McNeal of the Twain Harte Fire Department recently said there was no lightning in the area and said he suspected it might have caused by an illicit marijuana growing operation.

But the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday no marijuana cultivation sites were located near the origin of the fire.

California’s largest fire on record, in October 2003 east of San Diego, was sparked by a novice deer hunter who became lost and set a signal fire in hope of being rescued.