Accidentally starting a brush fire could lead to fines or criminal charges

Throwing out a cigarette butt or negligence while using a BBQ pit could land you in big trouble

Crews put out a Blanco County brush fire (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Crews put out a Blanco County brush fire (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

JOHNSON CITY, Texas (KXAN) — Firefighters say the wildfire that ripped through 206 acres in Blanco County was a complete accident. In some cases, even accidental fires can lead to fines or charges for the person responsible, but Johnson City fire officials say that won’t be the case this time.

Johnson City Fire Captain Michael Guthrie, the incident commander for Tuesday’s wildfire, says it was sparked by one coal that the wind blew out of a Johnson City homeowner’s barbecue pit.

“It’s a pure accident,” Captain Guthrie said. “The guy was just doing a little grilling, trying to cook some steaks for his family, and he was taking pretty good measurements to make sure everything stayed contained.”

The homeowner told KXAN after using the pit, he watered it down and put a lid on it, even checking it a few minutes later to make sure nothing had sparked back up. He said a few minutes into eating dinner, his kids alerted him that a fire had started in their backyard. Captain Guthrie says the homeowner did the right thing, calling for help immediately.

Crews put out a Blanco County brush fire (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Crews put out a Blanco County brush fire (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

“He called us right away, and we got on it as fast as we could,” Captain Guthrie said.

No homes, people or livestock were harmed in the fire, but Johnson City Fire lost one of its most important pieces of equipment, a military-style brush truck.

“It’s a needed truck,” Captain Guthrie said. “It’s our heavy-hitter, go-getter.”

The fire department’s insurance will only cover part of the cost of replacing the truck. The department’s chief has already applied for an emergency grant to cover the rest of it.

Guthrie says if the homeowner whose barbecue pit started the fire had been found to be reckless or negligent, he could be held responsible for the cost of the truck.

State law says even in cases where it’s an accident, starting a brush or wildfire can result in criminal charges. Causing a fire by throwing out a cigarette butt or burning during a burn ban is a misdemeanor. Causing a fire by using a barbecue pit won’t result in a citation, but the person responsible for the pit could still be forced to pay for any damage caused.

Johnson City Fire Department lost this truck in a fire in Blanco County on July 12, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)
Johnson City Fire Department lost this truck in a fire in Blanco County on July 12, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Frank Martinez)

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