Environment & Science

Caltrans workers accidentally spark 241 Fire with lawnmower, authorities say

In file photo, an abandoned structure burns above Irvine Lake.
In file photo, an abandoned structure burns above Irvine Lake.
Stuart Palley for KPCC

A lawnmower sparked a fire in Orange County on Monday that forced the evacuation of nearby campgrounds and the closure of several roads, Caltrans officials said.

A Caltrans worker mowing weeds saw sparks come out from the machine and cause a flare up in the vegetation, , said Caltrans's David Richardson. The crew was unable to immediately stop the fire before it spread, although the mower was followed by a water tender. 

"It was very quickly that the person that was on the water tender was able to get out of the truck and start to pump to water on the fire," Richardson said. "Unfortunately, they were unable to extinguish [it]."

Richardson said the work was done according to policy since Monday was not declared a red flag day by the National Weather Service.

The fire, also known as the 241 Fire, was reported Monday morning on the northbound 241. It prompted evacuations at the Irvine Lake campgrounds and road closures, including Santiago Canyon Road between the 241 and Modjeska Canyon.

The 180-acre fire also burned two abandoned outbuildings and threatened 15 other structures. 

Fire authorities investigating the situation spoke to the Caltrans employees. Richardson said the fire was ruled an accident.

"They are two great employees," Richardson said of the crew members. "Unfortunately, it just got away from them a little too quickly that day."

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