A retired Washington state firefighter who grows giant pumpkins in his spare time produced the winning pumpkin Monday at the 31st annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off (search).

The pumpkin (search), grown by 55-year-old Joel Holland of Puyallup, Wash., tipped the scales at 1,229 pounds — 49 pounds heavier than last year's winner. Its circumference was 13 feet, 7 inches.

Holland, whose prodigious pumpkins won the contest three years in a row, from 1992 through 1994, planted this year's winning pumpkin plant in May. He transported the giant gourd to California on a huge flatbed pickup truck, covering it with towels and blankets to protect its skin from dehydration.

Contest spokesman Tim Beeman said 80 pumpkins competed for the top prize, and eight weighed more than 1,000 pounds.

"It's our deepest field yet," Beeman said.

Holland wins $5 for each winning pound of pumpkin — a total of $6,145 — and both he and the pumpkin will be the lead attractions at the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival (search) this weekend.

The Safeway Pumpkin Weigh-Off is one of the oldest such competitions in the country and is considered by many pumpkin aficionados to be the most prestigious.