In-N-Out Burger has a well-publicized secret menu that is only a secret to the kind of people who have only recently discovered a show called Breaking Bad on their Netflix menus. But according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) the cult burger chain's actual secret-secret is that it was responsible for starting a 245-acre grass fire in a rural part of Arroyo Grande, California in 2017.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Cal Fire has sued the Irvine-based chain, alleging that the 'Huasna Fire,' as it's known, was started on September 20, 2017 by someone mowing the grass on a property owned by In-N-Out.
According to the lawsuit, the land was covered by "dry annual grasses and scattered brush, which created a receptive bed of flammable vegetation." The fire was allegedly sparked when chaff accumulated on the mower deck before a hot clutch ignited it, sending sparks into those "dry annual grasses" underneath it. Because of the dry, windy conditions, the fire quickly spread.
The Huasna Fire burned for four days on and around the property at 9815 Huasna Road before being contained and extinguished. In its lawsuit, Cal Fire says that the mower operator was negligent for allowing the fire to spread, and that the mower itself was faulty if its clutch got hot enough to start a grass fire in the first place. As a result, Cal Fire says In-N-Out should pay $1.3 million to cover all the related costs of the fire.
"Wildland fires such as the Huasna Fire ordinarily do not happen unless someone was negligent,” the lawsuit says.
What's not known is why In-N-Out owns the property at 9815 Huasna Road, period. The property is registered to the restaurant chain, but it's a 40-plus minute drive from the In-N-Out location in Arroyo Grande.
According to property records, In-N-Out purchased the land in December 2011 and paid $29,000 for it. Tax assessment records from the San Luis Obispo County suggest that there are three residences at that location, including a 5,600-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom residence that was constructed in 2014. The most recent tax assessment set the 480-acre property's value at $3,678,897.
Cal Fire says that it has attempted to collect payment from In-N-Out on two different occasions, but the company hasn't been responsive. It has not yet filed a response to Cal Fire's lawsuit either, but a case management conference has been scheduled for January 23.
VICE has reached out to In-N-Out for comment on the lawsuit, but has not yet received a response.