A pillar of fire rose over Odell Monday night as flames devoured 10,000 plastic fruit bins on Diamond Fruit property at AGA Road and Odell Highway.
Firefighters came from every department in the valley, deploying 12 tenders and engines including the Tower 3 from Hood River Fire Department. The fire was reported at about 7:20 p.m.
“It looked like a Roman candle, flames sticking straight up,” said Pat Roy, who lives on AGA Road directly across from the fire.
“It’s the largest bin fire I’ve seen,” said Wy’East Fire District Chief Greg Borton.
“We’ve never had a fire like this,” Diamond Fruit CEO David Garcia said as he watched firefighters pour an estimated 100,000 gallons of water from four hose points. (A large house fire typically requires 30,000 gallons.)
Water flowed an inch deep over surrounding streets and firefighters waded through knee-deep pools in ditches. Two firefighters sat in pools at one point to hold down a fully flowing hose line. The water came from Crystal Springs Water District supplies.
No one was injured and the cause of the fire is unknown, according to Borton.
He said an investigative team was on scene Tuesday morning, comprised of Wy’East, the State Fire Marshal’s office, Oregon State Police arson unit, and Hood River County Sheriff’s Office. The loss is estimated to be $1.3 million.
Two neighboring homes experienced some paint and siding damage, along with several vehicles and a boat, according to Lt. Tiffany Peterson of Wy’East Fire District.
Most of Odell went without power for about two hours after Hood River Electric Co-op shut off power at a switch nearby on AGA. They did so to reduce the danger to firefighters as they shot water across power lines on Odell Highway.
The two HRCE poles at the scene were scorched, said lineman David Porter, who got the call from his brother, Grant, a sheriff deputy, who said, “You better get down here; your poles are on fire.”
“We got lucky,” Porter said. “Both these poles were in absolute inferno but the firefighters knocked (the flames) down right away. We’ll assess them, and if it was superficial, we’re all right; but it if it got in there we’ll probably have to replace them.”
The outage lasted about one hour, 45 minutes, affecting about 200 clients, HREC operations manager Chuck Weseman said Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
“Everything is back to normal,” he said. The poles are operational for now, but may need to be replaced later because of surface damage,” adding that the main fiber optics line was also unaffected by the fire.
Garcia said Tuesday, “Diamond Fruit is up and running as normal today.”
Diamond will need to replace its bins, which represent about one-fourth of the co-op’s plastic bin supply, and about an eighth of its overall number of wood and plastic bins.
“We definitely have to order more bins, in time for next year, whether they’re plastic or wood,” Garcia said.
The bins were empty now that harvest is over.
“That’s the reason we had so many here. We were done harvesting, and this is where we normally stockpile them for the season.”
Asked if he knew the cause, Garcia said, “I don’t know. There’s nothing really there in itself to start a fire. They’re just bins. It naturally leads to ‘something, someone.’ There wasn’t any lightning strike, there wasn’t any construction inside of them; they were just sacked by themselves. There isn’t any ignition point on its own.
“They didn’t generate heat; it’s cold. There were witnesses who said there was some activity near the bins,” he said, acknowledging that the property is in a mixed residential and commercial area.
Asked if he was concerned about the potential environmental impact of the burned plastic, Garcia said, “Of course. We’ll have a look at it again in the morning, and assess. We’ll work with all the proper agencies, and see.”
The plume of flame and smoke was visible for miles.
Roy said he came out of his house to go to his neighbors at 7:30 and looked across the street and saw the flames.
His neighbors Fernando Murillo, a White Salmon firefighter, and Ashley Heck, a Wy’east EMT, were also home but Heck headed right to the fire.
“We were watching TV and we thought, ‘What is that?’ and Ashley checked and there was a big flame coming out of the stack,” Murillo said. “Next thing you know the flames were really big.”
Said Roy, “You know how normally a fire is wider at the ground than at the top? This one was straight up and down.”
Correction: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect dollar amount for the estimated damage caused by the fire.