By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Fire investigators say a lawnmower sparked a costly 26,000-acre (10,520-hectare) blaze in Oregon, one of dozens that have roared across the state in recent weeks, and the home owner accused of cutting grass during restricted hours could face fines or restitution.
The Oregon Department of Forestry is considering whether to cite the unidentified resident for defying a lawn-mowing curfew enacted this summer after extremely dry, hot weather gave way to an unusually early start to the state's fire season.
"In this case it appears the person was mowing grass outside of the prescribed hours that it could be done," forestry spokesman Rod Nichols said on Wednesday.
He said it was unclear when the state will make its determination on whether to fine the home owner or seek civil damages.
"It's a fairly lengthy process. A lot of these cases go on for years," Nichols added.
The so-called Stouts Creek Fire, which erupted in late July, prompted the evacuation of about 300 homes at as it spread through a rural and sparsely populated swath of national forest and state-protected lands in southern Oregon.
Although no one was seriously hurt and no dwellings were damaged, the blaze cost $37.4 million to fight, said Kyle Reed, a fire prevention specialist for the Douglas County Forest Protective Association.
The blaze was still smoldering this week, listed as 94 percent contained, as firefighters continued mop-up work.
State fire restrictions currently permit the operation of power lawnmowers between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. The Stouts Creek blaze began at about 1 p.m. on July 30, Reed said.
Rain and cooler weather has taken the edge off fires in southern Oregon in recent days, but smoke from Stouts Creek was still visible. Reed said the region's wildfire season typically runs through October, so the area is not out of the woods.
Nichols said the state often tries to recoup firefight costs from anyone found responsible and will look at whether negligence played a role. He said the state also seeks damages in relatively rare cases of arson wildfires.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)