Largest Wildland Fire in California’s History was Started by Sparks from a Hammer Hitting a Metal Stake

Firebrains | FireFire
Mendocino Fire. Credit: NACO

California fire officials say sparks from a hammer driving a metal stake into the ground started a 2018 blaze in Northern California that killed a firefighter and became the largest wildland fire in the state’s history.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Thursday that the blaze started July 17, 2018, in Mendocino County and quickly spread to Colusa, Glenn, and Lake counties, aided by tinder-dry vegetation, strong winds, and hot temperatures. Wildfires never have a single cause but are the confluence of climate, hot and windy weather, and human activity, which includes gross forest mismanagement. In the case of this wildfire, the sparks or hot metal that landed in tinder-like grass stoked flames just 2 feet by 2 feet in size on July 27, 2018. Then, it exploded.

The blaze burned a total of 640 square miles (1,660 square kilometers), much of it in the Mendocino National Forest, making it the largest wildland fire, or wildfire on undeveloped land, in state history. It also destroyed 280 structures and killed a firefighter from Utah.

Cal Fire did not identify the person who ignited the blaze. It says no charges will be filed.

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