Preventative maintenance stressed to car owners to help prevent wildfires

Three recent SLO County fires started by cars

Car maintenance stressed to owners to...

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Several different wildfires have broken out over San Luis Obispo County over the past two weeks.

It's been a big concern for residents and county officials, who have seen hundreds of acres burned and several structures destroyed.

CAL FIRE/San Luis Obispo County has announced none of the four recent fires are suspected to have started due to arson.

Instead, three of the four fires, the Hill Fire, Tower Fire and Spring Fire were started unintentionally due to vehicles.

CAL FIRE public information officer Chris Elms says it's a common problem throughout the state.

"Statewide we do see a significant amount of roadside starts," Elms said.

He adds it's particulary an issue this year.

"Right now we have an incredible grass crop, it's extremely dry," said Elms. "That grass is nothing but a fuse at this point to carry fire into the heavier vegetation."

In San Luis Obispo County, the hillsides are brown and bone dry, just months after being shaded in green. The dry conditions are already causing serious fire conditions, as evidence with the the recent incidents.

"With more than 3,600 square miles within the county and roads all intertwining all around there, it definitely has a real possibility for these roadside starts and vehicles starts to cause these vegetation fires," said Elms.

With the potential for more fire, CAL FIRE is urging the public to help out and maintain their vehicle properly.

"It is the vehicle owner's responsibility at all time to make sure that their vehicle is fit to be on the road," said Elms. "There are several things that they can do to give themselves the best opportunity to prevent these fires."

According to Rizzoli's Automotive general manager Kyle Rizzoli, common maintenance will likely keep most, if not all cars, from becoming a fire hazard.

"A car that is catching on fire is typically due to a some sort of a maintenance issue," Rizzoli said. "Either from the vehicle leaking gasoline or possibly oil or flammable liquid onto a hot surface, like an exhaust system."

Rizzoli stresses a faulty exhaust system is especially dangerous.

"A misfiring engine is what will cause the exhaust system to reach very high temperatures," said Rizzoli. "It can cause catalytic converters to be almost 2,000 degrees, which can cause fires."

The biggest danger with an overheating catalytic converter is that it's the lowest hanging part of the car, laying just inches above the ground.

"So if you're driving over any brush or anything like that, it's going to be the lowest part that can catch the brush on fire," Rizzoli said.

The best way to know if your catalytic converter is not running properly is through a warning light.

Any fluid leak is also a fire harzard.

"Oils, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, any of those fluids are combustible, so you want to make sure there's nothing leaking from your car," Rizzoli said. "If you are leaking, all you need is a spark and that can cause the fire to go up."

The Spring Fire, which burned 15 acres in Paso Robles, was caused when hot exhaust particulate passed though the exhaust system onto vegetation.

Rizzoli says that can happen sometimes when there is a hole in the exhaust system.

He notes it's easy to determine if your exhaust system is in need of service.

"If you start hearing your car and it doesn't sound right, it sounds louder or sounds like a race car, that's a good indication something is compromised in the system," Rizzoli said. "That's an indication to definitely check it out."

Rizzoli adds that through common maintanence, most potentially dangerous issues can be prevented before they start.

"As long as your getting your regular oil changes surfaces with inspections over the rest of the car to make sure everything is good shape, also no check engine lights or warning lights on the car and make sure the engine is not misfiring, you will greatly reduce your risk of catching anything on fire."

For more information on fire prevention, visit or preventwildfire/

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