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Firefighters battling Buck Fire find hidden marijuana field

August 15, 2012 |  3:12 pm

Crews battling the Buck Fire in Riverside County have found a hidden marijuana field and two men possibly trying to protect the illicit plants, authorities said.

"We're not able to get into the area because of the fire, so we have to wait until its contained," said Riverside County Sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa McConnell. "We haven't even started our investigation."

No arrests have been made, she said. 

Meanwhile, fire crews turned their efforts Wednesday to the eastern edge of the blaze, looking to keep flames from charging up Cahuilla Mountain and into the San Bernardino National Forest.

Four hundred firefighters have responded to the blaze, which broke out Tuesday afternoon and has consumed 3,000 acres.

Water-dropping helicopters buzzed nonstop over the Reed Valley Ranch, where cattle have been grazing since 1867, refilling their water tanks from the vast spread’s water ponds.

Ranch manager Don Moore said the wildfire has charred nearly two-thirds of the 800-acre ranch property, including prime grazing lands for 130 cattle. Moore used a tractor Tuesday to plow a fire break on one end of the ranch in hopes of stemming the flames, but the fire was too stubborn.

“My main concern right now is that I need grazing land for my cattle, because it’s all burned up here,” Moore said.

Pallets of water and Gatorade sat outside the Reed Valley Ranch bunkhouse for fire crews as they come off the line. The ranch is in a green valley, dotted by majestic live oaks and meadows -- a hidden oasis surrounded by jagged desert hills. Along with beef cattle, the ranch hosts trail rides for visiting horse owners, though many of those trails have been blackened by the fire.

The ranch is between the eastern edge of the fire and Cahuilla Mountain, making it critical ground to protect by fire crews. “Once it gets up there, there’s not stopping it,’’ Moore said.

None of the cattle, horses or other animals on the ranch have been injured, Moore said.

Just south of the ranch, prison inmate fire crews used shovels and bulldozers to scrape a fire line along a boulder-strewn ridge. A column of smoke drifted skyward, turning from ashen gray to white as helicopters dumped thousands of gallons of water onto the flames.

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-- Phil Willon in Reed Valley

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