SAN FRANCISCO — A central California property owner was shot and killed when he confronted three men illegally growing marijuana on his rural land, police said Tuesday.
Timothy Fadgen, 47, was killed during the confrontation Monday night and died at the scene, Madera County Sheriff’s Lt. Zack Zamudio said.
Fadgen confronted the men about the illegal growing site on the edge of his property in the small community of Oakhurst and a fight broke out, Zamudio said. Madera County is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Fresno, California.
Investigators were at the scene Tuesday, but Zamudio said they had not immediately determined how many pot plants were growing on the land.
Police were searching for the men witnesses said fled in an older-model blue or green minivan with tinted windows.
The killing came as tensions rise in rural California communities where new marijuana growers are clashing with longtime residents who complain that pot attracts crime to their neighborhoods.
State authorities will begin issuing licenses next year to legally grow and sell marijuana for recreational use. More growers are expected to set up shop throughout California as pot sales continue to boom.
So-called “guerrilla farms” illegally set up by growers on public property or remote private property without the owners’ knowledge or permission have troubled rural law enforcement officials and federal authorities for years.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife created a marijuana enforcement team three years ago to crack down on illegal marijuana gardens in the state’s forests. Fish and Wildlife agents shot and injured an armed man they encountered during a raid in the Santa Cruz mountains on July 7 where they destroyed 3,000 plants.
Trinity County Sheriff Sgt. Nate Trujillo said illegal pot gardens are sometimes established on private property owned by timber companies in the region, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
Hikers, campers and hunters in public forests occasionally stumble on grows guarded by armed workers, Trujillo said.
Trujillo said no one has been shot or otherwise injured in Trinity County by stumbling onto an illegal farm in the last three years, though two police dogs were stabbed last year during raids on public lands. Both dogs recovered.
Last month, a narcotics task force of federal agents and sheriff’s deputies arrested three men and destroyed 30,400 plants in two separate operations in Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Six Rivers National Forest.
“It’s a problem that is not going away,” Trujillo said.
Associated Press writer Kristin Bender in San Francisco contributed to this report.