Avoid starting another Ferguson Fire

The U.S. Forest Service stated that motorists are responsible for many wildfires sparked along roadways, including the 150-square-mile Ferguson Fire.

According to the agency, nearly all of the fires sparked along roadways by vehicles could be prevented with the following vehicle maintenance and safety measures:

• Practice safe towing by securing chains

• Be sure there are no dragging parts on your vehicle

• Check tire pressure and tread

• Carry a fire extinguisher

• Do not drive or park on dry grass or brush

Superheated pieces of a vehicle’s catalytic converter that came into contact with dry roadside vegetation are to blame for sparking the 150-square-mile Ferguson Fire in mid-July, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Investigators for the Forest Service are working leads to track down a vehicle associated with the cause, but one has yet to be located. No one who could speak publicly about the investigation was available for comment Tuesday.

A press release announcing the cause stated that the fire began between approximately 8 p.m. and 8:25 pm. on July 13 along the eastbound lane of Highway 140 in the Sierra National Forest in Mariposa County, near Savage’s Trading Post.

The blaze not only resulted in the deaths of two firefighters, Braden Varney of Cal Fire’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit and Captain Brian Hughes of the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots from Sequoia-Kings National Park, it also caused 19 injuries, destroyed 10 structures, burned more than 96,000 acres, and wreaked havoc on the economies of counties near Yosemite National Park.

Much of the economic losses that businesses in counties, including Tuolumne, suffered as a result of the fire were due to the park’s famed Yosemite Valley being shut down for nearly three weeks because of smoke.

Tourism officials estimated the loss to business in Tuolumne County at about $28 million due to both the Ferguson and Donnell fires, the latter of which broke out Aug. 1 and closed public access to many popular destinations along the upper Highway 108 corridor.

A cause for the Donnell Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest has yet to be released.

In other fire-related news, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Cal Fire has blamed two sagging Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power lines for igniting a 15-square-mile blaze in Yuba County County last year that killed four people, injured a firefighter, and destroyed 264 structures.

The utility’s equipment has been blamed by fire investigators for 12 blazes last year in Northern California that killed a total of 15 people.

A Sacramento judge ruled in 2017 that PG&E was liable for all property damages resulting from the Butte Fire two years earlier in Calaveras County that killed two people, destroyed 475 homes, and burned about 64,000 acres, after investigators determined it was caused by one of the utility’s power lines coming into contact with a tree.

Contact Alex Maclean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.