Trabuco Fire caused by golfer’s club striking rock

Above: Trabuco Fire, September 6, 2016. Orange County Fire Authority photo.

Investigators with the Orange County Fire Authority have determined that the September 6, 2016 Trabuco Fire started from sparks created when a golf club struck a rock. The fire burned about 20 acres adjacent to the Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club (map) in Mission Viejo in Orange County, California.

From the Orange County Register:

“The golfer had hit the ball into the rough,” Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz said. “As he was trying to get it out he accidentally hit a rock and it started a fire.”

Kurtz said the golfer was cooperative and tried to put out the sparks but the flames grew fast and “got out of control.”

This is not the first time this has happened. It is at least the third time in Orange County and the second time at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club.

  • In June, 2011 at the Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club Steve Parsons used a titanium-clad 3-iron to punch his ball out of the rough. The club struck an unexposed rock and seconds later he looked down to see that he was standing in a ring of fire. Mr. Parsons and his golfing partner called 911 and tried putting it out with ice from a cooler and an open beverage, but had no success. Thankfully the fire burned up to a cart path and went out.
  • August, 2010 golfers reported that  a 12-acre fire ignited when a golfer, whose ball was in the rough, struck a rock with his club, causing sparks which started the fire. It took hand crews, helicopters, and 150 firefighters to put out the fire at the Shady Canyon Golf Club in Orange County, California.
  • fire investigator determined that a golf club striking a rock was one of the possible causes for the Poinsettia Fire that burned five homes, 18 apartment units, one commercial building, and 600 acres on May 14, 2014 in Carlsbad, California. The fire started near a cart path on the 7th hole on the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa’s golf course.

In 2014 researchers at the University of California at Irvine studied how golf clubs can cause vegetation fires after two fires in Orange County where golf clubs were suspected as the culprit. Below are excerpts from their report:

Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to UC Irvine scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

The researchers painstakingly re-created in the lab course conditions on the days of the fires. Using high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis, they found that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking or grazing hard surfaces, intensely hot sparks flew out of them. In contrast, when standard stainless steel clubs were used, there was no reaction.

“Rocks are often embedded in the ground in these rough areas of dry foliage,” Earthman noted. “When the club strikes a ball, nearby rocks can tear particles of titanium from the sole of the head. Bits of the particle surfaces will react violently with oxygen or nitrogen in the air, and a tremendous amount of heat is produced. The foliage ignites in flames.”

Trabuco fire in Orange Co. Calif. stopped at about 20 acres

(UPDATE September 7, 2016: investigators determined that the fire started from sparks created when a golfer’s club struck a rock.)

Firefighters on the ground and in the air stopped a wildfire in Mission Viejo, California Tuesday afternoon after it burned 20 to 25 acres near the Arroyo Trabuco golf course east of Interstate 5 in Orange County.

Aside from the excellent job by the personnel at the scene, we were interested in this fire because of two photos put on Twitter by Maaike aka Shinobi (@ShinobiHaruka) showing before and after, or, during and after. There is a remarkable change in a short amount of time. The photos are used here with her permission. (We enlarged the flying object and pasted it as an inset.)

Trabuco Fire Trabuco Fire

I think the photos were taken not more than two hours apart.