Wednesday, 08 February 2023

Cal Fire reports on causes of large blazes

LAKE COUNTY – A Cal Fire battalion chief said Friday that the agency has been able to determine causes for two out of three large fires that took place in the county in July.


Eric Hoffmann is battalion chief for fire prevention in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, which also covers Solano, Colusa and Yolo counties.


Hoffmann investigates the causes of fires throughout the unit. He gave a report on the causes for the July fires.


– July 28: A fire that originated at the back of Robinson Rancheria's property burned 128 acres as it moved up into the hills and in the direction of Nice. A few small sheds were destroyed but no major structures were in danger, and no injuries were reported.


The blaze's cause, said Hoffmann, was children with matches.


Because of the circumstances, Cal Fire is putting together a package to bill the parents of the child responsible, although he said they haven't determined the specific child.


The fire required extensive use of aircraft, including four air tankers for the space of a few hours, and three helicopters throughout the fire's duration. Although the fire was contained that same day, firefighters remained on the scene until Monday to put out hot spots.


Hoffmann estimated the cost would be over $50,000. “We don't even have an estimate right now.”


Children playing with fire cause about 1 percent of the fires Cal Fire deals with every year, said Hoffmann. Locally, he added, the percentage of playing with fire cases is slightly higher.


Cal Fire's fire prevention specialists train on how to deal with juvenile fire setters, said Hoffmann. They have a special program geared toward children ages 6 through 11, which is intended to educate them about the dangers of fire and playing with matches.


Hoffmann said for more of those younger children, fire is an object of curiosity. By the time the children hit their early teens, their fascination with fire can cross the line into reckless fire starts.


The program has been successful, said Hoffmann; he said a veteran fire specialist reported she never had a child go through the program who was a repeat offender.


– July 16: A fire that ignited in the afternoon moved quickly through 100 acres of dry grassland near the Noble Ranch subdivision off of Spruce Grove Road between Lower Lake and Middletown. There were no structures damaged and no injuries.


The tentative cause of the fire was a plastic tarp that blew into a power pole. The tarp caused two lines on the pole to short, Hoffmann said.


The short caused one of the lines to break, Hoffmann explained, and when it hit the ground it ignited the grass.


– On July 14, a fire broke out along Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks, burning between 15 and 20 acres.


That fire, said Hoffmann, was the only one of the three for which they were unable to find a cause.


Hoffmann said the biggest cause of wildland fires in the Cal Fire unit is a combination of equipment and vehicles, which account for about 30 percent of fires.


Among pieces of equipment, which alone account for a 25 percent of fires, the No. 1 culprit is the lawnmower, especially those heavier mowers made for irrigated lawns, now dry fields, said Hoffmann. Welding, cutting and grinding tools also have caused fires.


Vehicles account for about 12 percent on their own, said Hoffmann, with fires usually starting due to faulty exhaust systems that come in contact with vegetation. That was the case last summer, with fires along Highway 29 near Middletown attributed to a catalytic converter.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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