MEDFORD, Ore. — On average, 15 wildfires a year in Jackson and Josephine counties are attributed to vehicles. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, they are seeing an increase this year. Ten wildfires this year were caused by vehicles, and most of them were large and expensive.
Fires start when hot carbon clumps spew from the muffler onto the ground. The carbon clumps form when the catalytic converter needs replaced. The catalytic converter turns unused fuel and pollutants into clean exhaust, but when it fails it gets hot. According to the owner of Kelly Automotive Services, Dave Kelly, the catalytic converter can reach 2400 degrees. The inside is made of a honeycomb material, and when it heats up it moves through the exhaust pipe and comes out the muffler in the form of red hot embers.
“A lot of exhaust systems also point to the side of the road, so now you are taking these glowing embers and pushing them right out to the side of the road into the dry grass,” said Kelly.
The Oregon Department of Forestry said during a time of extreme or high fire danger, dry brush, grass, and other fire fuels are very susceptive and able to burn.
“They become very expensive very quick,” said Matt Krunglevich of the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The department can spend up to $300,000 a piece on each fire, according to Krunglevich. He said they rarely catch the driver responsible for starting the fire because by the time the investigation is complete, the driver is gone.