Brush clearance and landscaping -- and accidental fires
As California enters another fire season, officials say it's still all too common to find property owners and their employees unwittingly doing the right thing in the wrong way.
More than 1,600 fires are started each year by people improperly using mowers, weed trimmers, tractors and other power equipment to clear vegetation. Improper use of power equipment -- working without spark arresters, for example, or trimming or cutting during the hot afternoon hours -- is the single largest factor in accidentally set blazes, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Most are quickly extinguished. But a few grow into roaring wildfires that destroy homes, tax the state's firefighting capacity and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to battle. In May, flames from the Jesusita wildfire in Santa Barbara roared across mountaintops for nearly a week, destroying 80 homes and injuring 32 firefighters. Authorities believe the blaze, which cost an estimated $20 million to fight, was sparked in the early afternoon of May 5 by someone using power equipment to clear brush on a hiking trail.
-- Catherine Saillant