Out on the golf course, it’s common—for most golfers, far too common—to hear expressions like “lateral hazard” and “water hazard.” One phrase you won’t hear is “fire hazard.” But a new report by the University of California Irvine reveals that sparks from golf clubs can create a fire risk at course with dry vegetation. Steve Concialdi, a captain with the Orange County Fire Authority in California, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: What sort of golf club can create a fire risk?
SC: Well these are titanium hybrid three irons. Basically we’ve had a number of fires over the years where the golfer swore he was striking the ball, hit some rocks and it created enough sparks to cause the dry vegetation next to the ball to catch fire.
BL: This study by UC Irvine found that golf clubs were to blame for two fires in Southern California: one in Irvine and one Mission Viejo. How extensive were those fires?
SC: Well the fire in Shady Canyon was about 25 acres. One of our firefighters did get injured in the fire. He had a laceration to his face. And that fire burned dangerously close to homes. And there was no other cause—our investigators did a painstaking investigation on this.
And then less than a year later on June 8 of 2011 down in Mission Viejo, a different golfer, but he had the same exact golf club, big area where there was some light grass—what we call flashy fuel—way off to the left (so most good golfers will never hit there) but the titanium club, the bottom of the sole of it, struck a rock below, and it sent these sparks and that fire quickly took off.
BL: Were the people doing this research surprised to find what they discovered?
SC: I believe so because even our investigators when they brought this to other investigators or fire chiefs, everyone was laughing at them. They said there’s no way these clubs can cause the fire. So Orange County Fire Authority provided them with a hybrid three-iron titanium golf club as well as dry vegetation that was similar to, it was right next to the ball, and the rocks that were in these fires, and they recreated this in their lab and then came out with the study.
BL: Do the results of this study have some bearing on golfers elsewhere or are conditions so peculiar to Orange County and that part of California that this is the only place people are worried about this.
SC: Well in Southern California we’re in a severe drought. We have very dry vegetation this year. We’ve only had a couple of inches of rain. So our fuel moisture, and this is just March, is extremely dry.
BL: Now golfers are not going to stop golfing. And I imagine the ones who own these titanium three irons are not going to stop playing with their three irons so what advice would you give them?
SC: The fire department, we’re giving all these amateur golfers a pass this time and saying you can improve your lie: go ahead. Your buddies might not agree with that, especially if you’re playing for something, but just don’t strike a ball and hit a rock with a titanium club.