Rancher Caused California’s Largest Wildfire


Greg Henderson, Drovers 

June 7, 2019


Cal Fire has determined last year’s Ranch Fire, California’s largest in history, was ignited by a spark or hot metal fragment created by a Potter Valley rancher hammering a metal stake into the ground.


According to Cal Fire’s 20-page investigative report issued Thursday (June 6, 2019), the July 27 fire was caused by a rancher attempting to erect a shade cloth above some ground water tanks on his ranch because a previous shade had blown down and the water was too hot for his cattle.


The rancher – whose name was redacted from the report – told Cal Fire investigator Eric Bettger that he was preparing to put up the sun shade when he agitated an underground yellow jacket’s nest.


The rancher said he was allergic to bees, and he waited about an hour to allow the insects to stop swarming. He then used a claw hammer to quickly pound a 24-inch stake 10-to-12 inches into the ground. It was then he smelled smoke and realized the tall grasses nearby had begun to burn, the report said.


Despite the rancher’s frantic efforts to extinguish the fire, it continued to grow and quickly spread out of control. Cal Fire’s deputy director, Michael Mohler, told the Fresno Bee that incident was a “complete accident,” and that no charges will be filed.


The resulting fire...