Story at a glance

  • Investigators have determined that the cause of the Apple wildfire is likely car diesel particles.
  • The soot particles are extremely hot and likely set fire to vegetation as temperatures soared past 100 degrees.

Investigators have determined that car diesel soot is the cause of the Apple wildfire currently tearing through Riverside County in Southern California — forcing thousands to evacuate and threatening hundreds of homes. 

NBC reports that a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection confirmed that a witness had reported seeing a car shooting large diesel particles from its exhaust pipe around Friday afternoon, the day the fire began.

The witness places the incident in Cherry Valley, one of the communities ordered to evacuate from the fire. 

Investigators have yet to identify the vehicle or the driver, but found diesel particles in the area where the fire originated.

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The official report states that the emissions were a result of a “vehicle malfunction.”

“They’re almost like a small marble, sometimes larger, and when they land on dry vegetation, they're extremely hot," Fernando Herrera, a spokesperson for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told reporters. "They can ignite any type of fuel."

The Apple Fire, named after the street several of the first fires were spotted on, began on Friday. By Monday, it had burned 26,450 acres of land in Southern California, having destroyed one home and moved into the San Bernardino National Forest.

Conditions were exacerbated by the heat wave in Southern California, which pushed temperatures past 120 degrees. More than 2,000 firefighters have been deployed to fight the flames, and about 8,000 residents have been evacuated. 

In addition to the Apple Fire, Southern California is also in the midst of battling rising coronavirus cases. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, two coronavirus hotspots, are now dealing with the Apple wildfire as well as a pandemic, making evacuation decisions difficult to reconcile with the current lockdown orders.

Published on Aug 04, 2020