Photo of wildfire by Envato.
On July 7th, 2021, the Broiler Fire sparked, and burned 80 acres in the Redwood Valley region of Northern California.
The fire rages for two days, fueled by dry brush, and a terrain experiencing record-breaking heat and a years-long drought. By July 9th — the fire, which firefighters have now 100% contained — claimed at least nine structures, three of those homes, reports local news source, Redheaded Blackbelt.
Though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Cal Fire, one cannabis company is claiming responsibility. On Friday, July 9th, officials with Flow Kana — a cannabis company that sources organic weed from regional small farmers — took responsibility.
In the statement, Flow Kana’s president, Jarom Fawson, explains that “we have been in conversation with local authorities supporting the fire investigation. The information we have to date indicates that the July 7th Redwood Valley [Broiler] fire originated on our property, after blades of a mower, operated by our employee, struck rock, causing a spark.”
Prevalence of Lawn Mower Fires
Equipment like lawn mowers, tractors and weed-eaters are known to cause fires, SFGate explains.
InsureUS, an insurance company, says these machines cause fires for a number of reasons, mainly due to defects.
Alarmingly, they write, “nearly every mower brand has had a recall due to fire potential. In 2011, John Deere recalled mowers after cooling fans failed, causing a reported 83 fires. Toro recalled its zero-turn mowers in 2013 after an idler pulley rubbing against the fuel tank posed a fire hazard. Craftsman mowers were recalled because of fuel line connections, […].”
Leaky fuel tanks are particularly dangerous, especially because such equipment runs hot. Additionally, grass can get caught within these machines, like a mower deck, and spark a fire. This, InsureUS states, was likely the cause of a 2015 in Oregon that caused millions of dollars in damage.
In addition to all of this, “rock strikes cause fires when the mower’s metal blades, traveling 200 mph at the tip, hit even a tiny rock, causing a spark and igniting dried grass,” the company adds.
Officials have attributed several fires throughout the U.S. to such occurrences.
For instance, according to a tweet from Cal Fire Amador-El Dorado Unit, three fires started within one hour from mowers on July 9th, 2021 alone.
AEU responded to 3 separate fires within 1 hour caused by mowing dry grass. Always mow before 10:00 A.M. and never when windy or excessively dry. A metal blade striking a rock can easily start a grass fire. Go to https://t.co/mKaKiLX62H to learn more. pic.twitter.com/KFnZx1jJNY
— CAL FIRE AEU (@CALFIREAEU) June 10, 2021
Post from Cal Fire AEU on Twitter.
In the statement from Flow Kana’s president, Fawson expressed regret, and apologized to fellow community members and first responders:
“We are actively reaching out to the impacted families as well as local community organizations to assist with fire recovery efforts and community healing, including the Humane Society of Mendocino, the Fire Safety Council of Mendocino County, and the Redwood Valley Emergency Fund.”
Fawson also said Flow Kana is working to become a leader in wildfire management, and improve their fire prevention program.
However, many have expressed frustration and disappointment with Flow Kana, including volunteer firefighter Adam Gaska. In a letter to The Willits News, Gaska — who responded to and whose efforts helped contain the Broiler Fire — said the incident borders on “criminal stupidity.”
“As the person who runs the fire safety trainings on the farm I help manage, I can’t wrap my head around how they could have been directed to be mowing during the conditions present,” he explained. Additionally, Gaska said:
“I also find it very disappointing that Flow Kana had canceled their grazing contract with my friend, local grazier Ruthie King who is also a local firefighter for Ridgewood Ranch. We know the importance of fuel load abatement. As a company that hangs their hat on sustainability and “The California Way”, one would think they would know the importance of grazing animals in managing our fuel loads because California becomes a tinder box waiting to explode during the summer.”
Emerald reached out to the company for clarification on their fire prevention efforts, but did not hear back by press time.
Be Prepared Year-Round
2020 was the worst fire season on record for California. This year, more acres have already burned than this time last July. While in a drought, and during a heat wave — Californian’s are well aware that anything from a gender reveal to mowing their lawn can cause devastation.
Humans cause nearly 90% of wildfires, according to a report from the Congressional Research Center (CRC). Consequently, humans can also prevent most of them.
There are several things people can do to reduce wildfire risk, particularly those caused by equipment like lawn mowers.
Agencies like Cal Fire, and Ready for Wildfire, a nonprofit, regularly ask Americans to use mowers before 10 a.m. Additionally, Ready for Wildfire suggests:
—never mow during windy or dry conditions
—use spark arrestors on equipment with fuel
—keep a shovel and fire extinguisher handy
—make sure there’s 10 feet of clearance
—do not use mowers for weeds, only lawns
Additionally, Cal Fire also offers an Equipment Use Safety manual, and a Wildfire Action Plan, in addition to more resources. The agency also recommends that all Californians create defensible spaces around their homes and yards; and have an evacuation plan for their families and animals.