Calif. officials: Teen hitting flaming tennis ball caused fire, explosion leading to power outage

The explosion was captured on video as Contra Costa firefighters were battling the initial blaze


George Kelly
East Bay Times

MARTINEZ, Calif. — A teenager hitting a flaming tennis ball ignited a two-alarm fire Wednesday afternoon that displaced three residents, heavily damaged at least one house and several vehicles and briefly caused a disruption in electrical service to about 8,700 customers, authorities said.

After a fire district social-media post Wednesday evening said investigators found the blaze began in an Arthur Road home's backyard, district officials provided more details in a separate statement Thursday.

"The three teens had a fire they had dug in a pit in the backyard and ignited a tennis ball and played stickball with it. One of them hit the burning tennis ball into some dry vegetation resulting in the grass fire," the statement read in part, before explaining that explosive noises heard during the fire came from vehicles and propane tanks catching fire, and that no fireworks were involved.

The youths were released to their parents' custody due to the fire's accidental nature and their lack of criminal records, but fire investigators will forward a case to the county's juvenile district attorney and a youth fire-setter program.

At 2:03 p.m., firefighters responded to the 100 block of Cambark Court for a report of flames at a residential structure, according to social-media posts.

Arriving firefighters found at least one structure damaged by fire with extension to nearby land, with visible plumes of black smoke rising above the neighborhood and visible for several miles.

Video shared by television reporters showed a large fireball rising from the fire and a structure that appeared to be completely destroyed by flames. Sparks could be seen jumping off a high-transmission electrical line as the fireball rose.

Multiple vehicles in a storage lot suffered damage, but firefighters were able to control the fire and prevent damage to as many as a dozen nearby residences, firefighters said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

According to a Pacific Gas & Electric spokeswoman, the fire caused a "transmission level outage" affecting about 8,700 customers, with power restored within half an hour.

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(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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