After several months of investigation, Cal Fire officials have determined the cause of last summer's Chimney fire was a vehicle that ignited dry grasses adjacent to a dirt road.
The 25-day fire burned 46,343 acres and destroyed 49 homes and 21 other structures. At its peak, close to 4,000 firefighters battled the blaze with resources that included 310 fire engines, 66 water tenders, 14 helicopters, four air tankers, 109 hand crews and 45 bulldozers.
"The investigators confirmed that the owner of the vehicle that caused the fire has been very cooperative with authorities," Cal Fire spokesperson Chris Elms said Wednesday. Officials determined last August that the cause of the fire was unintentional.
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Investigators were dispatched to the scene as part of the initial response to the fire "and immediately began working to determine the origin and cause of the fire," the spokesman said. "The ensuing investigation showed contact between a vehicle and dry grass to be the sole cause of the fire that began Aug. 23, 2016, at 4:03 p.m. near Running Deer and Chimney Rock roads, south of Lake Nacimiento."
Evacuation warnings were issued for several surrounding areas during the nearly monthlong blaze that included residents living north of San Simeon Creek Road, including Van Gordon Creek Road, Keystone Mine Road and Red Mountain Road, and road closures were issued for Van Gordon Creek Road and San Simeon Creek Road late August when the fire grew to over 41,600 acres. Other areas that were issued evacuation orders included Christmas Cove, Oak Shores, North Shore Boat and Ski, Laguna Vista, South Shore Village, Rancho Del Lago, Cal Shasta, Lake San Antonio, Sapaqua Valley and Bryson Hesperia in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.
Road closures were issued for G14 Interlake Road from Lake Nacimiento Dam to Bryson Hesperia Road, and boating activity was prohibited west of the Las Tablas arm near the lake.
The fire was declared fully contained Sept. 6, 2016.
The Chimney fire was just one of many that ignited along the Central Coast last summer and fall, including in Santa Barbara County the Scherpa, Rey and Canyon fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base in late September.
Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210