Off-road vehicle sparks Toro Creek fire, investigators say

jlavelle@thetribunenews.comNovember 9, 2013 

An off-road vehicle sparked the Toro Creek fire that has burned about 75 acres in the rugged hills between Morro Bay and Atascadero since Friday morning, Cal Fire investigators said.

Vegetation build-up on the vehicle was ignited by the hot motor, Cal Fire spokeswoman Tina Rose said. The burning vegetation then dropped from the vehicle into the brush, causing it to catch fire, she said.

On Saturday afternoon more than 200 firefighters were still working the fire, which started at about 10:30 a.m. Friday near Toro Creek Road and Highway 41 West. The blaze has been under control since Friday night and is expected to be fully contained by evening, Rose said.

“We will continue to patrol the fire for two more days,” she said, to catch any possible hot spots or flare-ups.

No one has been injured in the fire and no homes were burned, although residents in a dozen houses were temporarily evacuated Friday.

Firefighters had aggressively attacked the fire, immediately calling in substantial ground crews while also fighting the flames from the air with four air tankers and two helicopters throughout the day on Friday.

On Saturday, new crews began arriving at about 7 a.m. to relieve the weary firefighters who had been battling the blaze since it started, Rose said. Cal Fire firefighters from several counties have been assisted by the U.S. Forest Service and the local fire departments of Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Templeton, Morro Bay, Cayucos and Paso Robles, she said.

The fire started on U.S. Forest Service land near Toro Creek Road, racing uphill into private property where Cal Fire and the property owner had previously done some clearing as a fire prevention measure.

“The fire burned into a fire break that we had done two years ago on the ridgeline,” Rose said. “That’s what helped us control it so quickly. This fire could have been much worse because it’s bone dry out here.”

Rose said the wildfire served as a sober reminder that off-road vehicle users should regularly clean off the grass and other vegetation that typically builds up during a ride through brushy areas. That’s critical now, she said.

“Even though we’re into the second week of November it’s still fire season,” she said. “We’re not out of the woods until we get two or three inches of substantial rain.”

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