Investigators determine Ranch Fire caused by spark from hammer

Mendocino Complex of Fires
Map showing heat detected on the Ranch and River Fires at 3:31 a.m. PDT July 28, 2018, about 15 hours after they started. Click to enlarge.

Investigators for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, determined that the Ranch Fire that started east of Ukiah, California July 27, 2018 began when a man used a hammer to drive a 24-inch metal stake into the ground.

An hour after the Ranch Fire began during Red Flag Warning conditions, the River Fire started about 13 miles to the south, west of Clear Lake. The two fires were later managed as the Mendocino Complex, named after the county in which they started. The Ranch Fire consumed 410,203 acres and damaged or destroyed 280 structures.

The investigators talked with a property owner who explained that he was installing a shade cover over a water tank when he agitated an underground yellow jacket’s nest. Being allergic to bees, he retreated until after they stopped swarming, then using a claw hammer he drove the metal stake 10 to 12 inches into the ground to plug the hole. He smelled smoke and saw a fire that was about two feet by two feet. His efforts to put it out with a shovel and two different water lines were not successful.

While he was riding his four-wheeler to try to get out ahead of the fire, the vehicle rolled downhill, lodging itself between the water tank and a cut bank.

The investigator said that at the time of the interview the man appeared to be suffering from smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion but he refused an ambulance and medical treatment.

The recently released investigator’s report was written March 28, 2019.

Mendocino Complex fire Ranch California map
The red line on the map was the perimeter of the Ranch Fire at 9:15 p.m. PDT August 26, 2016, a month after the fires started. The white line was the perimeter on August 14. The red and yellow dots represent heat detected by a satellite in the 24 hour period ending at 2:31 a.m. PDT August 27, 2018. Click to enlarge.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

3 thoughts on “Investigators determine Ranch Fire caused by spark from hammer”

  1. Drove a stake into the ground and saw fire/smelled smoke — ? Not stated here clearly how driving a stake into the ground “resulted” in fire/smoke, to degree that man may have been debilitated.

      1. Yes. I have hit many steel to steel objects but have not had them begin an uncontrollable blaze. The determination of how [a] spark from a hammer striking a bar could so quickly start a blaze is incredible. I would like a second opinion.

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