Home NEWS Police/Fire Recent Fires In Lafayette, Pleasant Hill Caused By Cigarettes, Investigators Say

Recent Fires In Lafayette, Pleasant Hill Caused By Cigarettes, Investigators Say


Despite the nearly constant presence of smoke from raging wildfires to our North and constant messages of caution from local fire professionals it appears the cause of two recent fires has been attributed to “improperly discarded smoking material.”

News that a Sunday night blaze at the Lafayette Reservoir and a $1.1 million blaze at the Camelback Apartments in Pleasant Hill the following night were both the result of discarded cigarettes has shocked some, confused many, but probably comes as no consolation to people losing their homes to the latest resulting fire.

An improperly discarded cigarette was blamed for a 3-alarm blaze in Lafayette in July. Photo: Kaveh Asteneh

This site first reported the presence of a smoky blaze at the Lafayette Reservoir on Sunday, as fire consumed much of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and gusting winds drew smoke and ash from those fires South into the 24/680.

We were on fire watch that night as dozens of readers were awakened by the smell of drift smoke and contacted us for details on any local blazes. Firefighters responding to a blaze eventually reported at the reservoir found less than an acre of scrub and brush on fire and were able to extinguish the fire, but not before it sent up a plume of smoke adding to the already potent mix.

Investigators determined the fire had been caused by a discarded cigarette the next day, Monday, hours before another improperly discarded cigarette ignited cardboard at the Camelback Apartments on Camelback Rd. in Pleasant Hill – a cluster of town homes popular with students attending Diablo Valley Junior College.

The resulting fire quickly grew to 2-alarms, consumed several apartments and displaced more than 20 people. Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Capt. George Laing said the fire was sparked on a second floor landing when a cigarette landed amid some cardboard and eventually caused $1.1 million in damage to the structures and contents.

An improperly discarded cigarette was also blamed for a nearly unprecedented, 3-alarm structure fire at Lafayette Circle and Whitten Lane in July, an office cluster housing the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, La Finestra restaurant as well as nine other local businesses – all of them lost to the fire.


  1. I’m saddened but not surprised. I’ve never smoked, but it doesn’t bother me if others choose to smoke. It’s a free country. As long as they’re responsible – and too many smokers aren’t. What can you do to someone who doesn’t care?

  2. I just don’t understand how or why people do what they do sometimes. I mean LOOK AROUND – we’re ON FIRE for godsakes.

  3. Let’s do the math. A cigarette costs about .60 per coffin nail right? Damages inflicted on others after discarded = $1.1 million in this case, plus the cost of having all those fire personnel out there, plus the cost of finding and securing new housing for the people who lost their homes. Am I missing anything here? Hope that .60 cent smoke was worth it pal.

  4. I have become convinced that one third of the people sharing this planet with me are complete and total idiots.

  5. One question: did the smoker who chucked the butt lose his or her place in the fire, which would be some sort of justice, or did they as most careless people seem to do skip away scott free?

  6. I recall the days when people could smoke on airplanes. How we were ever so foolish as to allow smoking on airplanes is beyond me.

    Trivia – As recently as two years ago, I know that airplanes were not legal to fly if there wasn’t an ashtray in the lavatory. Even though smoking has been banned since 1988 on US carriers, regulators worry that a passenger will illegally smoke in the lavatory and then improperly dispose of the cigarette in the trash can if there’s no ashtray.

    Varig 820 was brought down in the early 70s by a cigarette thrown into a waste bin. This was back during the days when smoking on airplanes was legal. Pilots made an emergency landing in a field. Ten crew members and one passenger survived because they had fled to the front of the plane (where the smoke was the least thickest). Most passengers and the remaining crew (133 in all) were dead from smoke inhalation by the time the plane crash landed. All because of an improperly discarded cigarette.

    I was on a United flight a few years ago when several of us suspected a fellow passenger had smoked in the lav – the odor was obvious. I recall the flight attendant frantically screaming at the passenger wanting to know where he had discarded the cigarette so they could look for it and make sure no fire had been started. Even understanding the potential fire danger, he wouldn’t admit to smoking. They searched through the waste bin and found a cigarette. Luckily, it had been extinguished.

    • @Tom – Never experienced fire or the threat of same in an aircraft but have seen fire aboard ship and it was the result of a discarded cigarette tossed into the bilges. One dead, one badly burned. Can’t remember which one tossed the butt.

  7. I am curious as to how investigators determine this, short of someone admitting to it or another person (or security camera) witnessing the discarding of the cigarette. I would think a cigarette butt would be completely destroyed by the flames, and locating any remains that weren’t destroyed would be like the proverbial needle in a haystack.

  8. Can you think of a single smoker who doesn’t also toss their butts, be it from a car or any time there isn’t an ashtray within arms reach?

    Smokers are litterers, and should be fined as such.

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