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Weed abatement effort may have caused brush fire near Murrieta

The Volcano fire started when a Riverside County worker's mower became entangled in barbed wire. At least one home is destroyed.

August 01, 2012|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
  • A Riverside County firefighter rests his head in the extreme heat while trying to save a house fully engulfed in flames during the Volcano brush fire near Murrieta.
A Riverside County firefighter rests his head in the extreme heat while… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Riverside County's weed-abatement efforts appear to have inadvertently caused a brush fire Wednesday that destroyed at least one home and injured firefighters in the La Cresta area near Murrieta.

Investigators believe the so-called Volcano fire was started by a county Transportation Department worker who was mowing weeds along Tenaja Road, according to a statement. The mower became entangled in barbed wire, causing sparks that ignited the brush, said Battalion Chief Phil Rawlings of the Riverside County Fire Department.

"The county is providing its full cooperation as fire department officials continue their investigation and their efforts to bring the fire under control," the statement from Riverside County said. "Each year, the county works to reduce the chance of fire by clearing brush and weeds along roadsides. The fire is a tragedy for the residents whose homes are threatened and whose lives and families are being disrupted. County officials will do everything in their power to assist them."

PHOTOS: Fighting the Volcano fire

The fire broke out just before 11:30 a.m. at Tenaja Road and Via Volcano, according to the Fire Department. It burned slowly for about the first hour, but then quickly spread to 350 acres.

More than 300 firefighters were battling the blaze late Wednesday with 39 engines, seven helicopters, six air tankers and three bulldozers. At least three firefighters were treated for minor injuries: an ankle wound, a minor burn and heat exhaustion, Rawlings said.

Footage from news helicopters showed a large home engulfed in flames on a wooded hillside. Rawlings said most residents are proactive about brush clearance, but the home that was lost was surrounded by vegetation, making it difficult to defend.

A temporary evacuation center was opened at Murrieta Valley High School. but no mandatory evacuation orders were issued and the center closed after a few hours.

By late Wednesday, the fire was about 50% contained. Authorities expected to have the blaze 100% contained by Thursday morning and fully under control that evening.

Another fire broke out about 2:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Glendale hills, but was extinguished in half an hour with the help of three water-dropping helicopters from the Los Angeles Fire Department, said Battalion Chief Thomas Propst of the Glendale Fire Department.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of that fire, which broke out in the 1900 block of Deermont Road and blackened about half an acre. One home was damaged and a man sustained a burn to his shoulder defending a neighbor's house with a garden hose, Propst said.

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