Ferguson Fire cause listed but questions still remainFree Access

Blaze scorched more than 96,000 acres in county

A firefighter is shown battling the Ferguson Fire earlier this year. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

A firefighter is shown battling the Ferguson Fire earlier this year. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The cause of the Ferguson Fire has been released, though questions still remain.

Officials from the U.S. National Forest Service have listed the cause of the fire as “superheated pieces of a catalytic converter,” though it is unclear if that means it was a defective piece or if a vehicle may have went into dry vegetation.

The forest service further stated the pieces “came into contact with dry, roadside vegetation, igniting the fire.”

That statement was issued in a news release during the evening of Friday, Oct. 5.

The Ferguson Fire began on Friday, July 13 along Highway 140 in the Merced River canyon near the Ferguson slide area in the Sierra National Forest.

Eventually, the fire would burn 96,901 acres of the forest as well as in Yosemite National Park and some state lands.

In addition, the fire took the lives of two firefighters.

The first was the following morning, July 14, when CAL FIRE heavy equipment operator Braden Varney, 36, died after his bulldozer toppled over an embankment in the Jerseydale area. Varney was a lifelong resident of Mariposa County.

The second death was Brian Hughes, 33, who died on Sunday, July 29, after a tree fell on him while battling the blaze. The incident happened on the east side of the fire, which is in the El Portal and Yosemite West areas.

Hughes was a captain with the Arrowhead Interagency Hotshots based in Sequoia and Kings National Parks.

The Ferguson Fire was not declared fully contained until Aug. 22.

Forest service officials said the vehicle associated with the cause has not been located. They are, however, continuing to try and make that determination, according to the press release.

Anyone with information is asked to contact officials with the Sierra National Forest at (559) 297-0706. Officials said the fire began along Highway 140 near Savage’s Trading Post at approximately 8-8:25 p.m. on July 13.

One question which has yet to be answered is exactly how many fires began that night in the river canyon.

That issue was raised during the funeral for Varney by Madera-Mariposa-Merced CAL FIRE Unit Chief Nancy Koerperich.

During her eulogy, Koerperich described the events when the fire started and what eventually led to the death of the local firefighter.

She said that at around 8:30 p.m., “three fires started along Highway 140 in the Sierra National Forest.”

No other explanation has been given about three fires starting along the river canyon that evening.

A call was placed Tuesday morning to Alex Olow, public information officer for the Sierra National Forest, who issued the press release. The person who answered the phone said Olow was out of the office until Wednesday.

The person directed the call to Barbara Fleming of the forest service, where a voice message was left by this newspaper. A call was not returned as of press time on Tuesday.

The press release said the forest service was assisted in the investigation by the National Park Service and CAL FIRE.

Forest service officials also said motorists are responsible for many of the wildfires sparked along roadways. Most, they said, could be prevented with proper vehicle maintenance and safety measures.

They suggest the following:

• Practice safe towing, including making sure chains are secure.

• Maintain the vehicle and make sure there are no dragging parts.

• Maintain tires by checking pressure and tread wear.

• Carry a fire extinguisher.

• Do not drive or park on dry grass or brush.

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