York Fire sparked by cigarette butt, official says

A wildland fire burns along South Boundary Road in Fort Ord near Ryan Ranch in Monterey on Sunday.
A wildland fire burns along South Boundary Road in Fort Ord near Ryan Ranch in Monterey on Sunday. David Royal — Herald Correspondent

Monterey >> A lit cigarette butt sparked the blaze along South Boundary Road near Ryan Ranch that led to residents near York School being evacuated Sunday.

“Careless smoking, it happens a lot,” said Kim Bernheisel, a Cal Fire spokesman, about the cause of the fire. “There’s a large number of fires caused by cigarettes.”

The fire burned a narrow strip of Fort Ord land, starting near York School and burned down toward South Boundary Road before continuing northwest, along the edge of South Boundary Road.

“They jumped on it real quick and they did a great job,” Bernheisel said of the response by Cal Fire, Seaside, Marina, Monterey Regional, Salinas and Presidio of Monterey fire departments, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Del Ray Oaks Police Department, Marina Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

According to Bernheisel, October is one of the worst months for wildfires in the area.

“It’s because people get complacent because the days are getting shorter and it gets a little bit cooler as we transition into fall and into winter, but it’s drier now than it is at any other time of the year,” he said. “Until we get significant rain, we’re going to be at high fire danger going forward.”

Bernheisel said it wasn’t particularly windy Sunday, but once light fuels like grasses ignite and catch surrounding bushes and trees on fire, it can get more air flow higher up and the fire can intensify and move quickly.

“Especially if we get a wind pattern, you can see what’s happening up north,” Bernheisel said of the fires in Wine Country. “Our fuels are cured out very well right now and a lot of stuff’s available to burn, so we just want to be extra careful until we get into the wet season.”

Although the days are getting shorter, the lack of a strong marine layer has led to weak relative humidity recovery at night meaning the air and vegetation remain dry. While some rain is in the forecast for Thursday evening into Friday, it’s not expected to be enough to lessen the fire danger moving forward.

“Anything helps but even if it’s a soaker, if we get a good period of drying again (the fire danger will remain),” Bernheisel said. “We need rain over a good period of time, not just single events.”

Cal Fire recommends creating and maintaining a 100-foot zone of defensible space around your home, using ember-resistant building materials to protect your home and creating a wildfire action plan. Go to readyforwildfire.org for more tips.

The York fire along South Boundary Road was first reported at 2:20 p.m. Sunday and it was fully contained by 6:58 p.m. The blaze was two acres by the time firefighters arrived and it spread at a moderate rate, burning 31 acres before it was contained. A total of 50 residents in the York Road area were evacuated before they were allowed to return home Sunday night.

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No firefighters were injured in the fire. Two helicopters dropped water on the fire, while four air tankers dropped retardant. A total of 15 engines, two hand crews, two bulldozers and two investigators worked on the fire.

Crews remained on site patrolling the York fire Monday. Cal Fire crews responded to a small fire near Poppy Hills Golf Course on Lopez Road that burned a quarter acre before it was controlled.

Tommy Wright can be reached at 831-726-4375.