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.