Former Cambria resident sparked Bridge Fire with a grinder, Cal Fire lawsuit says

The State of California is seeking to recover costs associated with fighting a July 2017 brush fire that led to the evacuation of Cambria’s East Village from the tractor operator alleged to have caused it.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, filed a civil complaint Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to recover at least $65,532 from Andrew William Dreyfus, who public records indicate now lives in Texas.

The cause of the fire, Cal Fire alleges, was a “metal-grinding operation that emitted sparks and/or hot metallic pieces and which landed on the annual grasses and duff in the area in which he was grinding, thereby kindling the Bridge Fire,” the complaint reads.

According to Tribune reports from the time, the fire was reported shortly after 1 p.m. July 18, 2017, in eucalyptus trees and brush in the East Village and grew to 3 acres before its progress was halted about 2 1/2 hours later.

During the scare for the fire-wary community, buildings on Bridge Street were evacuated, a section of Main Street between Burton Drive and the 1800 block of Main was sealed off, and helicopters soared overhead as firefighters attacked the fire.

Residents on Wall Street and those in the area of the Santa Rosa Cemetery were also evacuated, and the Sheriff’s Office also made reverse-911 calls to properties in those areas.

In all, 3.7 acres burned in the incident. No one was injured.

After the fire was put out, Cambria’s community services district’s water systems supervisor told a Tribune reporter that somebody was working on a tractor and a fire sparked. The employee said the man, who he did not identify, used a fire extinguisher but “it just got of control real quick.”

The staffer said the tractor operator did not live on the property but was a relative of the property owner.

According to the Cal Fire complaint filed Monday, the agency is seeking “no less than $65,532.54” from Dreyfus to recover “fire suppression, investigation, report-making, accounting, and collection costs.”

The agency alleges that Dreyfus was negligent when grinding steel with his tools, including a right-angle grinder and a metal cutting blade.

Dreyfus allegedly admitted in his 911 call that he was not paying attention to what he was doing when he started the fire, and the agency says he did not have fire-fighting equipment like water or a shovel with him at the time.

The complaint states that state law allows public entities to recover fire suppression costs from people who negligently or in violation of the law set or allowed fire to be set and/or allow fire kindled by that person to escape onto public or private property.

The complaint states that it has sent Dreyfus letters of demand for payment but as of the filing had not received any payment.

Gary Tavetian, a supervising deputy attorney general with the California Attorney General’s Office who wrote the complaint, referred questions about the civil case to Cal Fire. A Cal Fire representative did not return a request for comment Monday.

Dreyfus could not be reached for comment.

A case management conference has been scheduled for November in the Paso Robles courthouse.

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