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Faulty vehicle caused Redwood Highway fire

Officials said a vehicle’s catalytic converter sparked the Redwood Highway fire that burned earlier this month southwest of Grants Pass. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Forestry

Officials have determined that a vehicle’s catalytic converter was responsible for a series of fire starts that led to the Redwood Highway fire southwest of Grants Pass.

The fire along Highway 199, also known as the Redwood Highway, was reported at about 6:30 p.m. July 24 as multiple small fires along the road. Multiple agencies attacked the fire, holding it to six acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest Oregon District.

A catalytic converter turns gas or diesel exhaust into less harmful emissions. But if a vehicle isn’t running right, a catalytic converter can heat up to more than 1,000 degrees. It can cause fires if it touches flammable material like dry grass, or spit out hot pieces as it breaks apart, according to car experts.

In all, six fire starts were found between milepost 17 and 23 on the Redwood Highway, including two smaller fires at mileposts 17 and 19. Four starts near milepost 23 grew into the main body of the fire. Additional spot fires flared from there, ODF officials said.

At the points of origin, investigators noticed dry fuels were particularly close to the road, likely playing a role in the ignition.

Officials said it’s unlikely the vehicle will be identified. However, if anyone driving in the area at the time of ignition has information, contact the Grants Pass ODF office at 541-474-3152.

The vehicle was traveling northeast on the highway toward Grants Pass, officials said.

Multiple agencies that responded to the fire included ODF, Illinois Valley Fire District, Rural Metro Fire, Grants Pass Fire District, Applegate Valley Fire District 9, Rogue River Fire District 1 and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.