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Best Western in Forest Grove dealt damage in fire sparked by cigarette

Forest Grove firefighters worked to extinguish the burning siding of the Forest Grove Best Western Sunday. The hotel suffered $75,000 in damage in the blaze. High heat, clear skies and a carelessly tossed cigarette led to about $75,000 in damage to the Forest Grove Best Western hotel Sunday.

The ember from the tip of the cigarette heated bark dust situated along the side of the hotel, which smoldered for hours and eventually caught the building’s siding on fire.

Firefighters from Forest Grove were able to quickly extinguish the flames on the outside of the building, and sprinklers inside knocked down the fire in short order. But unusually dry and warm September weather is leading firefighters to plan ahead for what’s generally unthinkable in this part of the state: wildfire.

Monday afternoon Forest Grove Fire & Rescue officials announced a ban on all outdoor burning.

Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer said the department also revoked a permit for a ceremonial bonfire at Pacific University.

“This is extremely rare,” Nemeyer said. “Septemeber’s always nice, it’s always pleasant, but we usually get a shower or two to keep things damp.”

Not so this year, Nemeyer said. And no weather forecasters expect the dry spell to change.

That means the fire risk will continue until the next rain, with East winds whipping dry the region’s dusty grass fields and timber land.

With the burn ban in effect, no one inside the Forest Grove and Cornelius service area is allowed to burn anything outside of a barbecue or controlled, outdoor fireplace. No burn piles, no bonfires, no campfires.

“It’s just a matter of sparks getting away and the embers of your campfire getting away,” Nemeyer said.

Because lightning is rare in western Washington County, human activity is the main cause of wildfires and brushfires.

“It’s not just the thought that a little campfire is going to cause the next Tillamook Burn,” Nemeyer said. “It’s that the campfire will catch something else on fire.”

A match isn’t needed to create a fire danger. A couple weeks ago a number of cars lit on fire at a wedding held at a farm south of Hillsboro. Nemeyer said the heat from beneath one car lit the dry grass of the field, which turned into a raging fire.

And Forest Grove firefighters have responded to fires caused by welding accidents, sparks cast from lawnmowers and fireworks.

It doesn’t take much to light dry grasses on fire.

Nemeyer said farm or yard equipment should be kept lubricated and clean. Build-ups of grass or clippings can heat up and cause a fire. And he recommended that people be wary of were they park their cars in the full heat of the day, avoiding parking over long, dry grass that could be lit up by the heat from a vehicle’s burning-hot catalytic converter.

But for the Best Western, the fire turned out to be a temporary inconvenience. The hotel was open again Tuesday, while repair work continued on the building’s edifice.

The timing of the repairs was good, too. Pacific University’s homecoming next weekend will draw throngs of football fans looking for a room.

“They run full on homecoming weekends,” said Teri Koerner, Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce executive director. “And as nice as the weather is we’ve got people doing the packages that are going out to, say Tree to Tree (Adventure Park).”

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