June 12, 2019

The Ranch Fire — California's biggest wildfire — was started by a man who hammered a metal stake into a wasp's nest.

The NYT reports.
During a morning of chores on his ranch three hours north of San Francisco, he had spotted an underground wasp nest. He grabbed a metal stake and pounded it into the hole to try to seal it off.... He was judged responsible for the fire, but not negligent.... He seemed more bewildered than remorseful about starting such a vast fire. “Mother Nature,” he said, “you have no control.”

He said at first he tried to stop the fire by throwing a nearby trampoline and an old carpet on it; he shoveled dirt on the flames and then tried to douse them with water from a hose that melted and would not unkink....

Then... “he unhooked his trailer and tried to put the fire out by ‘kicking up dirt’ ahead of it with his four-wheeler.” Moments later, “He lost control of his four-wheeler, which rolled downhill and lodged between the water tanks and the cut bank.” Finally, when nothing worked, he ran down the hill and dialed 911.

87 comments:

rhhardin said...

It's less of a tinderbox now.

iowan2 said...

Further investigation contends a spark from the hammer hitting the stake created a spark that started the fire. OK. Anti-climatic. I have a tough time putting to much blame on a person doing something that is intuitively not very likely to cause a fire. Something here I am not seeing.

Rob said...

By attacking a wasp nest, he stirred up a hornet’s nest.

MayBee said...

Miss O'Leary 2.0

rehajm said...

Sounds like a weed farmer...

Soap bubbles.

exhelodrvr1 said...

How many more wildfires must happen before we finally come to our senses and ban metal stakes?

tim maguire said...
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tim maguire said...

Sounds like a scene from Dumb and Dumber.

wwww said...

I would not have guessed that would start a fire. However, I've been told by exterminators we don't want to plug the hole before we take care of the nest.

Amadeus 48 said...

I'm skeptical.

I also doubt this story. I believe the guy started the fire. I doubt the explanation of what happened.

dbp said...

I don't want to minimize all the damage the fire caused, but would it have killed the reporter to ask if the wasps survived the fire?

dbp said...

I also don't believe the explanation. I think the rancher poured gasoline on the wasp's nest, lit it and the fire got away from him. Why would you hammer a stake into the hole when you could cover the hole from a greater distance by shoveling some dirt onto it? Especially if you are allergic to stings.

tcrosse said...

Does this let the electric company off the hook?

Johnathan Birks said...

Agree with dbp - there had to be some sort of accelerant involved. And a fair amount of stupidity.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

“Sounds like a weed farmer...”

And an enthusiastic user of his produce. Not the same thing, I know, but if you’ve ever watched tweakers being...productive...it’s an awful lot like this guy’s fire-fighting efforts.

Dave Begley said...

Sounds more like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon.

Charlie Currie said...

So, after starting a fire using gasoline to kill some wasps, he hammered a metal stake into the nest to give him a convincing story to tell fire investigators, who stood there staring at the stake in the ground nodding their heads saying, yep, sounds about right?

gilbar said...

i'm assuming that he hit an underground cable with the spike, which then caused the fire.
This Assumes that California is advanced enough to have underground cables

gilbar said...

this guy’s fire-fighting efforts.
a) throwing a nearby trampoline (kindling)and
b) an old carpet on it (MORE kindling)
c) shoveled dirt on the flames (This is Crazy enough, that it might have just worked!) and
d)then tried to douse them with water from a hose that melted and would not unkink....
{so, by THIS time, the fire was big enough to melt garden hoses!}Then...
e)“he tried to put the fire out by ‘kicking up dirt’ ahead of it with his four-wheeler.”
{remember, this is AFTER step C, which he quickly gave up on}
then, after an amusing crash into a ravine; he thought: "HEY! What about?"
f) dialed 911

this was after what, 40 minutes? an hour? SKIP TO STEP F PEOPLE, THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR!!

Ice Nine said...

If you are allergic to wasps, this is instinctive and axiomatic: You don't go near wasp nests. Period.

That guy's story reeks.

Fernandistein said...

That would probably be your western yellowjacket, barometer for the health of our planet and a friend to all.

Why would you hammer a stake into the hole when you could cover the hole from a greater distance by shoveling some dirt onto it?

It sounds like something Joe Biden would do, after shooting a shotgun at his balcony.

Big Mike said...

Add my name to the list of folks who think he tried to burn out the nest and it got away from him.

Jamie said...

Definitely gasoline. Has to be.

EDH said...

Compare this to those idiots on Naked and Afraid who can't start a fire and get bitten by insects.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
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Dust Bunny Queen said...

I also don't believe the explanation. I think the rancher poured gasoline on the wasp's nest, lit it and the fire got away from him.

I don't believe it either. He set the fire. Duh.

Yellow jackets.....You kill them with a fire when they nest in the ground, spread powdered insecticide on the holes or just pour a special chemical down the hole. Generally, they aren't a problem for us. Although the have several nests in the orchard area and I only mow early in the morning when they are asleep in the cold and not at all when the weather is hot when the ground cover stops growing. Don't mess with yellow jackets. They are aggressive and vindictive little bastards.

Yellow jackets will also build above ground nests and we treat them the same as the Paper Wasps (which are not very aggressive). Spray their little nests under the deck, the eaves, nooks and crannies, and other places on buildings to kill them. Power wash the deck furniture occasionally. What they do in the forests is up to them. Just stay off my lawn/house/deck.

Setting traps with, special bait for each species, early in their breeding season will also kill them ...if you get a queen the whole nest of Yellow Jackets will die.

Lyle Smith said...

Why in the he’ll aren’t they judging the sun responsible? Put the sun on trial! Oh the humanity.

elkh1 said...
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Fen said...

I don't even believe this guy exists, they likely made him up.

Fen said...

Oh, byline says "NYTs". Yah he's a fictional character.

mtrobertslaw said...

Why would you ever think you could get rid of the wasps by pounding a metal stake into their nest?
The only result from that action would be a bunch of angry wasps who want to get rid of you.

Clark said...

Yellow jackets in the ground?

Block of dry ice over the hole. Upside down bucket. Weight on the bucket.

The dry ice vendor thought I was nuts. But it worked.

purplepenquin said...

"SKIP TO STEP F PEOPLE, THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR!!"


But firefighters provided by the State is considered "socialism"...what kind of rugged individual would stoop so low and ask for help from that type of evil system?

mockturtle said...

Women have probably known this from prehistoric times: Men cannot be fully trusted with fire.

Howard said...

Neat Portland slurry

gilbar said...

what kind of rugged individual would stoop so low and ask for help from that type of evil system?

well, IF you're going to stoop; stoop while the iron is hot, so to speak.

gilbar said...

mockturtle said...
Women have probably known this from prehistoric times: Men cannot be fully trusted with fire.


Probably could safely stop at: Men cannot be fully trusted.

Howard said...

The guy is likely to be a Trump deplorable.

Original Mike said...

Blogger Clark said...
"Yellow jackets in the ground?
Block of dry ice over the hole. Upside down bucket. Weight on the bucket."


That's clever.

Narr said...

He thought the critters might be Californy Vampire Wasps!

Narr
Can't be too careful

Kelly said...

California man is making Florida man look downright smart.

tcrosse said...

Block of dry ice over the hole. Upside down bucket. Weight on the bucket

We always keep a block of dry ice around the house for that very purpose.

JackWayne said...

Purple Penguin returns from hiatus. I see you haven’t changed.

gspencer said...

"Sounds more like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon."

Could be, but we best wait for the lab report to verify that it was an Acme metal stake.

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...

I thought the power company started the fire. Sparks shooting off the power lines and such.

Tomcc said...

Sounds like a completely ludicrous account. I can see why the NYT would print it. A car dragging a muffler can create enough sparks to start a grass fire. A person with a hammer striking a metal object would have to be damn near bionic.

FullMoon said...

Times has hired an Onion reporter. I especially like the dogs guarding 2 chickens. Maybe six or seven rottweilers? Informal fleet of cars is pretty generous description, also. We call 'em junkers down here.

"Mr. Kile’s home, which has a commanding view of the narrow valley carved out by Cold Creek, is surrounded by piles of mechanical equipment and an informal fleet of cars, some of which do not appear to be operational.

Two chickens are guarded by protective dogs. On the porch, “Welcome” is spelled out with horseshoes. Mr. Kile has a full head of short gray hair and moves across his cluttered porch delicately. He says he spends most of his time watching television and dresses comfortably for that purpose."

FullMoon said...

Cal Fire should hire AA commenters, many who can figger out the cause in a milli- second, without the expense of travel or investigation.





"The Cal Fire report detailed the steps investigators took to analyze the cause. Using magnets and tweezers, they found tiny metal shards near the wasp nest. Any one of them, or all, could have ignited the dry grass. The metal stake was misshapen where it had been hammered."

FullMoon said...

Blogger Clark said...
"Yellow jackets in the ground?
Block of dry ice over the hole. Upside down bucket. Weight on the bucket."

That's clever.

Works for gophers and moles and maybe termites. Sucks out oxygen, or something, if you can plug all the holes

Yancey Ward said...

There is so much bullshit in this story, I wouldn't even know where to start. If the man is truly the cause, then he is lying about how he started it.

mandrewa said...

I once had a fire get away from me. I was trying to get rid of the remains of an old chicken house. And I was burning it piece by piece.

I had cleared the ground all around the spot where I was burning, but somehow the flame leapt across a three foot gap, and the pine needles on the ground started burning. It spread so fast. All I could do was try to stamp it out. I did not have time to do anything because it was spreading.

I lucked out. My only near neighbors, a quarter of a mile away, saw the smoke and came up to investigate. They helped me to put it out. We were all frantically stomping. It took awhile and it was just a ground fire.

0_0 said...

So some commenters apparently believe that the fire investigation found the tiny metal bits from the stake hammering, yet missed the gasoline the man 'must' have used? And yes, they can still detect accelerants if any were used.

Rain (in Cali) has fallen into May this year, leading to even more plant growth. A normal dry summer will likely result in more fires later this year.

FullMoon said...
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Fen said...

mockturtle: Women have probably known this from prehistoric times: Men cannot be fully trusted with fire.

That's an old joke and a point of shame in our household. In the Marines, we had very strict uniform standards, even for cammies, ironed and creased a specific way. For the loose "threads" we would take a lighter and burn it off.

So... wifey is laying on the couch on top of a knitted shawl or something. Fen notices a loose thread on the shawl and pulls out a lighter. Wifey watches in horror "why is my husband approaching me with an open flame wtf!?". Fen proceeds to light the loose thread with then engulfs the entire blanket in a micro-second and now the couch is on fire and the wife is up on the wall spider-man style, still in shock that she had the poor judgement to marry such a dumbass.

But I must admit, the look on her face was worth the price of a new couch.

Fen said...

"...and try not to set the couch on fire!" has become a common refrain.

Fen said...

Why would you ever think you could get rid of the wasps by pounding a metal stake into their nest?

Maybe the metal was silver and the wasps were vampiric? Make perfect sense to me now.

Tomcc said...

Fen: Thanks for that anecdote; I'll be laughing all day!

Achilles said...

BleachBit-and-Hammers said...
I thought the power company started the fire. Sparks shooting off the power lines and such.

There is a lot here that doesn't make sense.

This story is obvious garbage and only an urbanite reading the NYT's would be stupid enough to believe it.

They are forcibly turning off people's power this summer to prevent all of the global warming wildfires.

Why are they doing that?

They will only turn off power to rural areas though. San Fran need not worry.

Tomcc said...

(Although it should start with "hold my beer")

bagoh20 said...

I don't buy that bullshit story either. A spark from a hammer is unlikely to start a fire, and if it did it would be simple to put it out with dirt or just stamp it out. He used some kind of accelerant that created a fire too big to easily put out. Spark my ass.

bagoh20 said...

There are accelerants that leave no trace, like acetone, and after all his attempts to put it out, the scene would be so disturbed that an investigation might not find any tracee of what really happened.

mockturtle said...

How much did the power company pay this guy to make up this story?

FullMoon said...

Not to upset the applecart here, but the sparkly fire was a whole differnt fire.

Ever once in awhile, I actually read the story before commenting. Not usually, like most of us regulars, just occassionally.

FullMoon said...

How much did the power company pay this guy to make up this story?

Trillions, plus free utilities for a year.

Leland said...

I'll give benefit of doubt to metal stake pounding as fire ignition source. But if he didn't bring the fuel, then whose fault is the condition of the land that made it a fuel?

I'm totally lost on the use of a trampoline as fire extinguisher. I understand smothering a fire, but in don't see using a trampoline to fo it.

FullMoon said...

Fen proceeds to light the loose thread with then engulfs the entire blanket in a micro-second and now the couch is on fire

I call BS on this story. No way a loose thread would cause that fire. Fen used gasoline.

FullMoon said...

I'm totally lost on the use of a trampoline as fire extinguisher. I understand smothering a fire, but in don't see using a trampoline to fo it.

So, you are an old geezer out in the field accidentally starts a small fire. There is a junk trampoline mat laying on the ground nearby with a bunch of other junk.

Do you
A) Grab tramp and hope to smother fire

B) Jump in your car and drive to WalMart and buy a fire extinguisher?





FullMoon said...

There are accelerants that leave no trace, like acetone, and after all his attempts to put it out, the scene would be so disturbed that an investigation might not find any tracee of what really happened.

So, premeditated, then?

Insurance job, am I right?

Tomcc said...

FulllMoon: I'm curious. Do you find the story entirely plausible? I believe in Occam's razor, but that would be an astonishing confluence of events, would it not?

FullMoon said...

FulllMoon: I'm curious. Do you find the story entirely plausible?

Yep. No problem imagining it at all.

You have a dumb ass old guy starts a small fire. Tries to put it out as it grows, doing the best his dumb ass increasingly over whelmed and terrified self can do until it is totally out of control.

Shit happens, and it can happen real fast.

Read Fen's story above. He could have killed his wife and himself

FullMoon said...

Official Report of Fire

dbp said...

"The Cal Fire report detailed the steps investigators took to analyze the cause. Using magnets and tweezers, they found tiny metal shards near the wasp nest. Any one of them, or all, could have ignited the dry grass. The metal stake was misshapen where it had been hammered."

The stake, complete with metal fragments could have been hammered into the ground 5 months earlier and the man misdirected the investigators to the spot after the fire he started with gasoline 100 feet away caused a brush fire.

Investigators never identified the exact spot the stake had been in nor the supposed nest.

FullMoon said...

13
DUDLEY and I marked the concrete stake located in the SOA as Evidence Number 1,



I removed the concrete stake 18 from the ground, measured its length as 24 inches,
and then placed it into an
evidence bag 19 at 4:37 PM.

FullMoon said...

The concrete stake had staining, sooting 22 and ash deposits
located on it
23 During this time frame, yellow jackets
24 were trying to access the area under the concrete stake but were unable to do so
because
25-of its location in the ground.


BTW. The guy was not trying to plug a yellow jacket hole. He was installing a tarp for shade and inadvertantly hit the yellow jacket nest.

Misleading headline.

FullMoon said...

Investigators never identified the exact spot the stake had been in nor the supposed nest.

Do not read official report linked above.
Remain ignorant, it is more interesting that way.

Personally, first thought was Bigfoot tokin' on a Doob, but he way up in Humbolt, diff county altogether.

Rusty said...

purplepenquin said...
"SKIP TO STEP F PEOPLE, THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR!!"


"But firefighters provided by the State is considered "socialism"...what kind of rugged individual would stoop so low and ask for help from that type of evil system?"
And you were doing so well by not being here.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

purplepenquin said...
"SKIP TO STEP F PEOPLE, THAT'S WHAT IT'S FOR!!"


"But firefighters provided by the State is considered "socialism"...what kind of rugged individual would stoop so low and ask for help from that type of evil system?"


Well....given where this incident took place it is more likely that the first responders would be a Volunteer Fire Dept staffed by local rugged individuals.

Temujin said...

I'm surprised that throwing canvas and an old carpet on the fire didn't put it out.

FullMoon said...

I'm surprised that throwing canvas and an old carpet on the fire didn't put it out.

Not as surprised as he was...

Wilson Carroll said...

"BTW. The guy was not trying to plug a yellow jacket hole. He was installing a tarp for shade and inadvertantly hit the yellow jacket nest."

Incorrect. The report specifically says he stirred up the yellow jackets when he grabbed the tarp. They started to get jiggy so he backed off for an hour until they settled down. THEN he claims he drove the "concrete stake" into the ground to block the yellow jacket hole.

This story is so full of crap it hurts. I've battled yellow jackets in the ground too many times to count, and the entrance holes are always AT LEAST several inches in diameter. Assuming "concrete stake" means re-bar, that's only a half-inch in diameter, meaning there's no possible way this fool could have blocked the hole into the yellow jacket nest doing what he claimed he was doing. And BTW nobody who is allergic to yellow jackets is going to spend any amount of time standing over the nest hole hammering on a metal bar unless he has a death wish.

These incident reconstruction "experts" are jokes, too. He claims he can look at a burned clump of grass and tell you definitively where the fire came from and where it headed??? Spare me.

FullMoon said...

"BTW. The guy was not trying to plug a yellow jacket hole. He was installing a tarp for shade and inadvertantly hit the yellow jacket nest."

Incorrect. The report specifically says he stirred up the yellow jackets when he grabbed the tarp. They started to get jiggy so he backed off for an hour until they settled down. THEN he claims he drove the "concrete stake" into the ground to block the yellow jacket hole.

You are right. I was wrong about that.

dbp said...

"• showed
us where the yellow jacket's nest was located.-tried to find the concrete stake he had
hammered into the ground, but was unable to because it was removed as evidence during
the investigation"

The only evidence there was a nest was that the guy said there was one. There is nothing in the report about finding an underground abattoir of cremated yellow jackets.

FullMoon said...

The only evidence there was a nest was that the guy said there was one. There is nothing in the report about finding an underground abattoir of cremated yellow jackets.

Nothing in the report saying he did not pour gasoline on the ground to kill the non existent yellow jacket nest.

So, you win the argument.

dbp said...

Well, let's see: On one hand is a completely unbelievable story with literally no evidence other than what the guy said. On the other hand, a fire did start in that location and if he did something stupid, it would be in his interest to make up a story.

FullMoon said...

Well, let's see: On one hand is a completely unbelievable story with literally no evidence other than what the guy said.

And the fire officials who probably lied to protect the guy because...something.
And BTW, you said: Investigators never identified the exact spot the stake had been in nor the supposed nest.

6/12/19, 2:33 PM

Report clearly says investigator found the exact spot and removed the stake for evidence.

But, like I said, you win the argument, because it just never ever really could possibly have happened the way the guy said because stuff like that is beyond imagination and just could not happen in three foot high weeds on a hill in a hundred degree heat with some bumpkin out in his yard putting up a tarp to keep the sun off his water tanks and banging on a stake with a hardened steel carpenters hammer which any eighth grade kid in shop knows is the wrong hammer to use because it might spark,
BUT, nobody searched for the scorched underground yellow jackets although the fire official says they were swarming in the area.

You win with logic.

dbp said...

"BUT, nobody searched for the scorched underground yellow jackets although the fire official says they were swarming in the area."

The swarming in the area was the guy's description to investigators. They found the stake, pulled it out and roughly described in their report where they found it (they did not mark the spot with a flag or anything like that). Nobody looked for the nest.

Doesn't it stir any suspicion at all that they went to huge efforts to match hammer marks with the stake and find metal slivers that match the stake and not look in the hole? There was never doubt that it was his stake and golly, you think he hammered in his stake with his own hammer? Hold the presses! This changes, well nothing, actually.

madAsHell said...

I liked the part where he used his truck to throw dirt on the fire, and then lost control.