Nikolas Matiska: Close call with wildfire
On Memorial Day I was using a trimmer mower to make a friend’s 10-acre property more fire safe. I have done related work (weed-whacking, brush cutting, burn piles, wood-chipping, chainsaw work, etc.) as side jobs since 2017. I have even done it into the first week of June with no problems.
So I have a moderate understanding of what to expect. In the hundreds of hours I have done this, I have never seen anything like this.
I started before the heat of the day, around 8 a.m., and got about an hour and a half of work done before I noticed a bit of smoke coming from a mowed area 60 feet away. I left to retrieve a bucket of water, but by the time I got back two minutes later, the smoke had turned into a grass fire 10 feet by 10 feet and was beginning to expand.
I immediately realized that my bucket of water was not nearly enough and shouted at the homeowner to call the fire department. The fire continued to expand rapidly and became way too much for me and the homeowner to handle with our limited resources.
Within a few minutes, half a dozen neighbors noticed the fire and came to help. A nearby rancher assisted with a water truck, a few people brought shovels and rakes, and the homeowner used his tractor to help create a fire break. We were very lucky to receive so much help.
By the time the fire department arrived 10 minutes later, the flames had covered about a quarter of an acre and were threatening to climb into tree canopies. There were about 15 to 20 firefighters and three fire trucks from different departments — they definitely were giving their best effort.
Thirty minutes later, after 1,500 gallons of water were used, the fire was finally extinguished and questions were asked to determine the cause. As it turns out, the plastic line on the trimmer mower was not the only type of material that was spinning. There were a couple of 3/8 inch metal nuts that struck a rock and created a spark, which I did not notice for multiple minutes. Had I realized this before, there is no way I would have considered doing this job.
We can all be grateful that this did not turn out significantly worse. There are a million things that could have allowed this fire to go out of control — this county could have turned into Paradise, Calif., if it occurred at a less convenient time.
The lesson I, personally, have gotten from this is I always need to be prepared. If I had a couple of two-gallon fire extinguishers and a hose, this never would have spread. A tremendous amount of water, resources, manpower, and time would have been saved.
In the act of attempting to stop fires, I created one. Even tiny mistakes have the potential to have massive consequences.
Fortunately, no one was hurt. No property damage occurred. The fire was extinguished quickly.
Today serves as an excellent warning. My weed whacker and brush-cutting equipment are retired for the summer, and I encourage everyone else to use extreme caution when doing anything around dry brush. Fire season is upon us, earlier than ever, it seems. Stay safe everyone!
Nikolas Matiska lives in Grass Valley.
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