San Diego

Arson Not a Common Cause of San Diego's Devastating Fires

Tires have been caused by kids playing with matches, people not putting out their campfires or people tossing a cigarette out a car window and even a mylar balloon

Most San Diegans know what fire weather is or what a red flag warning can mean. But, do they know the most common cause of wildfires?

For example, the Cocos Fire in San Marcos in 2014 was arson. A juvenile started the fire that destroyed 36 homes and caused $10.4 million in damage.

The Harmony Grove Fire in 1996 was also arson. On Oct. 21, 1996, the fire ravaged the area in southeast Carlsbad, destroying 54 homes.

There’s no hiding the fact people go out and light fires, but is that often the cause of devastating fires?

“Not specifically in San Diego,” said Cal Fire spokesperson Kendal Bortisser. “It’s not.”

Bortisser says brush fires are usually caused by accident.

Most often the larger fires begin as small, vehicle fires like a 2.5-acre brush fire on July 16 near Cowles Mountain.

“A catalytic converter starts to light grass on fire and were off to the races,” Bortisser said.

Just this weekend, a plane crash in Lakeside started a brush fire.

Less than two weeks ago, people practicing shooting guns on private property caused the 25-acre Wilson Fire in Ranchita.

In Otay Mesa over the Fourth of July weekend, illegal fireworks caused a fire.

A year earlier, the Feather Fire broke out due to a mowing equipment malfunction. Homeowners were evacuated in the Barona Mesa community but no homes were damaged or destroyed. 

Bortisser suggests waiting for a day when temperatures are high and humidity is low is not a day to tackle a lawn project.

“We want you to maintain defensible spaces but a day like today is not a good day to do it,” he said.

Bortisser says fires have been caused by kids playing with matches, people not putting out their campfires or people tossing a cigarette out a car window.

“Lightning,” he adds. “We actually have lightning fires here every year.”

Even a balloon has been known to start a fire as it did near Lake Murray in June.

“A mylar balloon got caught in power lines fell to the ground and started a fire five-acre brush fire,” the Cal Fire spokesperson said.

One thing that hasn’t been recorded in San Diego County but has been reported in California – fire started by a golf swing.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, two fires were started near a golf course in Orange County. The common denominator in the investigation was that each golfer used a titanium golf club.

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