Delayed burn pile fire

Firefighter John Stehlik

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Firefighter John Stehlik

Firefighter John Stehlik hoses a burn pile Thursday that had been set more than five weeks ago. The fire spread to four-tenths of an acre before Wy’East Fire District personnel responded and controlled its spread through blackberries and into nearby woods. The fire happened at about 3 p.m. Thursday at Neal Creek Road and Thomsen Road, on property owned by Phil Downer, who lives in Seattle. His caretakers had set the permitted burn in the last week of April but recently put newly-cut oak clippings on the ash heap, and there was enough residual heat to rekindle it, according to Wy’East Chief Greg Borton. He said most of the recent fires that state and local agencies have dealt with are latent burn piles days or weeks old that people thought were out. The piles need to be doused, stirred, and often excavated a foot or more down to fully extinguish and ensure root systems are not holding heat beneath dry ground. “We were lucky there wasn’t more wind and higher temperatures,” Borton said. “It was cool and a little damp, and it could have been a lot worse.” Oregon Department of Forestry also sent two rigs and crews to help contain the fire and keep it from the barn and house.

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