Fire cause: steel wool: Homemade ATV muffler sparked Monday blaze

Posted: Thursday, September 03, 2009

A homemade device for snuffing out the sounds of a engine led to the wildland fire that burned 10.9 acres near the Kenai Municipal Airport on Monday evening.

"Basically, the situation involved a gentleman doing wildlife photography who made a silencer for his four-wheeler," said Eric Wilcox, fire marshal at the Kenai Fire Department.

The man's name has not been released as some details of the fire are still being investigated, but Wilcox was able to describe how the materials the man used for the device did not hold up to heat as well as hoped.

"He had an after-market muffler on the four-wheeler that was too loud to get close to animals, so he made a silencer out of a coffee can with steel wool in it," he said.

Unfortunately, the fine filaments of steel wool are highly flammable, Wilcox said.

"It's a great fire starter, and as the temperature increased, the steel wool reached ignition and dropped off, starting a fire," he said.

According to Wilcox, the man was away from the four-wheeler when this happened, and when he notice that a blaze began, he attempted to put it out and called 911 to report it.

However, with wind speeds reaching 30 mph Monday evening, the fire moved and grew quickly. Sixty-five personnel from five different departments worked together to extinguish the blaze. Marathon Road was closed from 9:30 p.m. Monday until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning during these efforts.

Wilcox said while the idea of the silencing device was somewhat unique, fires resulting from recreational vehicle engines and tools with gas-powered engines are not as usual.

"It's not uncommon for sparks from four-wheelers, snowmachines or chainsaws to start a fire. This is the second time in my career I've seen a four-wheeler start a fire," he said.

No structures were lost and no major injuries were reported during the incident.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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