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Scappoose Fire District responded Sunday to spontaneous combustion fire at facility

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Emergency crews responded to a fire at Beaver Bark on Sunday, Oct. 1. Firefighters responded to a similar fire in mid-September. Both fires were ruled to be caused by spontaneous combustion.For the second time in less than a month, the Scappoose Fire District responded to a bark dust fire caused by spontaneous combustion at a landscaping materials supply and wood byproduct company.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, firefighters were dispatched to Beaver Bark LLC in the 54000 block of West Lane Road around 7:30 a.m., when a bark dust fire was reported.

Spontaneous combustion occurs when materials, such as wood chips, hay or compost, self-heat to a temperature sufficient for ignition. It usually occurs when materials are stacked when wet.

When SFD fire crews arrived, they discovered a 75-foot-long, 75-foot-wide, 50-foot-tall bark pile with fire actively burning on the eastern portion of the pile. Crews were forced to cut through a chain link fence on the property to reach the fire because the lock on the gate was not properly functioning, according to public information officer Cheryl Engstrom.

A total of four apparatus and eight personnel from SFD were dispatched to the fire. Crews uses 3,750 gallons of water to put out the blaze, Engstrom added. While crews were on scene, an official from Beaver Bark arrived and used a tractor on site to

turn over the bark pile and place it under an on-site sprinkler.

Ben Holscher, the general manager of Beaver Bark, said when bark dust fires break out, the use of water is only one component of the process, and the bark piles need to be spread out and turned over using heavy machinery to extinguish hot spots.

On Sunday, Sept. 3, Scappoose fire crews were dispatched to the same site for a similar bark dust fire, which was also ruled to be caused by spontaneous combustion.

Data from the fire district shows that SFD has responded to bark dust fires caused by spontaneous combustion at the Beaver Bark facility six times since 2013, including Sunday's call.

Holscher said it's hard to say how common bark dust fires are at the facility, but they usually only occur once or twice a year. Staff at the property routinely overturn bark dust piles and make sure they are compacted to prevent fires or hot spots from breaking out, Holscher explained

When asked, Holscher said the fact that two similar fires have broken out in one month at the business is just a fluke and doesn't give him any cause for alarm.

"Unfortunately fire impacts our business, so we are always aware of when the most potential for a fire is there and how we can prevent it," Holscher added.

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