Vehicle fire ignited blaze that forced electricity shut-off

Published: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 8:51 am

A vehicle sparked the fire that shut down Highway 50 during the evening commute Monday and resulted in a power outage affecting thousands of El Dorado County residents.

"The cause of the fire was related to a vehicle driving on eastbound Highway 50," Battalion Chief Chris Anthony of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a written statement.

Fire crews were dispatched at 4:03 p.m. to a report of a wildland fire at eastbound Highway 50 and Ponderosa Road. Fire officials said the fire was found to be between the freeway and Durock Road near a Pacific Gas and Electric power substation.

Because of the location, the California Highway Patrol closed Highway 50 and Durock Road in both directions until firefighters were able to get a handle on the blaze, according to a Cal Fire news release. The fire was reported fully contained at 8:31 p.m.

PG&E cut power to approximately 49,000 customers so emergency crews could safely fight the fire.

Anthony said the fire began near the side of the highway and quickly spread toward houses, businesses and the substation.

"This is why it is so critical for everyone to make sure their vehicles are properly maintained because, as we witnessed (Monday), an improperly maintained vehicle can have far-reaching consequences," he said.

When a vehicle is not well maintained, fire officials said, the exhaust system can become overtaxed, allowing fuel to enter the exhaust system, which in turn overheats the catalytic converter, which melts and disintegrates as the car is driven.

Pieces of the catalytic converter exit the muffler at about 1,200 degrees and can bounce into dried grass along the edge of roads and start fires.

Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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