Carol Whitmore said she never thought she’d have to call the Molalla Fire Department, but she’s glad she did.

Firefighters responded to a call at her home, 16431 S. Riverview Rd., in Meadowbrook, at 11:14 p.m. Thursday night after rags used to apply linseed oil to the floors of the nearly-100-year-old converted barn started putting off a strong, chemical odor.

The rags later caught fire after Molalla firefighters arrived.

Whitmore said she and her son had washed the rags twice and put them in a basket in front of the dryer. She then did another load of laundry, and when she went to put that load into the dryer, she noticed the floor where the basket of rags had been sitting had turned hot.

“I mean, hot, and I could feel in through my shoe,” Whitmore said. “It was from those rags.”

Linseed oil is safe for wood, but when left on rags, the oil is so concentrated that it heats up as it evaporates. The product can spontaneously combust if it isn’t handled properly.

At the time, Whitmore detected a strong, chemical odor, but didn’t connect the odor to the rags.

That’s when she called the fire department.

It’s a good thing she did, because shortly after the firefighters arrived, they detected high levels of carbon monoxide inside the home, but could not immediately identify the source of the potentially deadly gas.

“They were close to having a real problem,” Molalla Fire Chief Vince Stafford said. “They had an odor, and they couldn’t figure it out. We couldn’t quite track it down and were there almost two hours investigating.

“We went into the bedroom where the smell was the strongest and … all of a sudden there was a smoke haze in there. So we pulled back, put our people in the self-contained breathing apparatus, and really started digging in that room, and that’s when we found the rags.”

Left unattended, the levels of carbon monoxide could have become lethal, Stafford said.

He said three career firefighters and 13 volunteers responded to the call. 

“A lot of investigating and it turned out well,” Stafford said. “It was one of those where we could have left, but we knew something wasn’t right and we put on our detective hats and finally found it.

Whitmore encouraged voters to vote in favor of ballot measure 3-442 — the bond and levy to help fund the Molalla Fire District.

“None of us likes to pay taxes, but we need to provide them with the ability to do their jobs,” Whitmore said. “I can’t speak highly enough of the fire department. As a homeowner, I highly recommend that people vote for this levy and bond, because it’s my house this time, but next time it might be yours. And we all need to be protected.”

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