California fire department sues In-N-Out for allegedly sparking 2017 wildfire [Updated]

Photo: SweetBabeeJay (iStock)

Update, November 25, 2019: An In-N-Out spokesperson tells Nation’s Restaurant News the company has settled a lawsuit brought by Cal Fire related to a 2017 wildfire, while Cal Fire tells NRN the case is ongoing and no settlement has been reached. This story will continue to be updated with what are certain to be future clarifications.

Original story, November 25, 2019: What does In-N-Out have to do with the Huasna Fire that burned 254 acres in Arroyo Grande, California in September 2017? According to California’s firefighting agency, the fast food chain is entirely responsible, and should pay up. A new lawsuit filed by Cal Fire in San Luis Obispo Superior Court accuses In-N-Out of sparking the Huasna Fire when a lawnmower mowing a patch of land owned by the company ignited the brush and created the fire. The lawsuit seeks $1.2 million in compensation for costs associated with battling the fire.

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But the story gets more complicated, as you might wonder why In-N-Out hired someone to mow a rural patch of grass. The land wasn’t associated with any existing In-N-Out restaurant or structure, and San Luis Obispo newspaper The Tribune reports it’s unclear why In-N-Out owns that particular piece of land in rural Arroyo Grande. According to the paper’s review of the lawsuit, the lawnmower’s clutch ignited dry grass and chaff, sparking a fire aided by high winds.

Lawnmowers and weed trimmers have been known to spark wildfires. While clearing property of excess brush and potentially flammable leaves or grass is advisable, fire departments suggest residents and businesses not perform this type of yard work on days when the National Weather Service has issued a red-flag fire warning. Cal Fire reportedly responds to 1,600 fires sparked by lawn equipment each year.

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In-N-Out hasn’t commented on the lawsuit, which has a case management conference scheduled for January 23.

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Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.