A woman was so high on pain pills in Northern California Sunday afternoon that she didn't realize her 2002 Kia Rio had a flat tire and that sparks from its rim had set her car and the surrounding forest on fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Rene Ilene Hogan, 44, has a suspended license and was driving under the influence of a controlled substance when she was unable to explain to police why she was driving a burning 2002 Kia Rio with a rear flat tire, the CHP said.
The incident occurred before 2 p.m. as Hogan was driving eastbound on Mountain Ranch Road in West Point, a small town in Calaveras County, according to a CHP arrest report.
Hogan's right rear tire became flat, but she continued driving until the tire wore down to the metal rim, according to CHP Officer Tobias Butzler.
As the rim ground against the road, hot sparks flew into the drought-parched grass lining the highway, igniting several fires and ultimately, Hogan's vehicle, Butzler said.
"She knew she was driving, but was oblivious to any of the carnage she was causing," Butzler said.
Another driver on the highway saw her car burning and tried to alert her, but she didn't respond, authorities said. The motorist ultimately drove in front of her and stopped, forcing Hogan to stop as well, Butzler said. The driver and others in the community who saw the smoke pulled Hogan from the burning car and called police.
By the time Hogan stopped, the tire rim had been ground down three inches, Butzler said.
The flames sparked in the grass grew into the Willow fire, which had burned 450 acres and was 30% contained as of Monday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
In addition to Hogan being booked on suspicion of driving under the influence and with a suspended license, Cal Fire investigators said they will seek additional charges against her for causing a fire that burned a home and state forest and occurred during a state emergency.
Last year, the area was ravaged by the Butte fire, which killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes in Calaveras and Amador counties.
"After the fire last year, everyone around here is really jumpy. When they see smoke, they call," Butzler said.