On Easter Sunday, a passerby called 911 to report a barkdust fire at Swanson Bark and Wood Products in Longview. Responding to 911 calls at Swanson Bark is not an unusual occurrence because the facility, with its large piles of barkdust and other products off-gas regularly as a natural part of the composting/decomposition process. Staff at Swanson use temperature probes to assess the risk, and small fires are not uncommon and are generally handled by on-site staff.
While fire units were enroute Cowlitz 911 called the facility and they confirmed they had a surface fire that they were actively attempting to extinguish. During this same timeframe Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue was battling a structure fire on Regland Rd. Shortly after the Swanson dispatch a brush fire was dispatched to Astro Road in rural Kelso, further taxing the regional resources.
When Longview Fire arrived they encountered a large barkdust pile that was burning and spreading to adjacent piles. Strong winds out of the northwest coupled with access issues to the multiple piles of recyclables, smoke and visibility challenges, and the available water supply all created difficult tactics and strategies for firefighters. With the other active fires, staffing was also below normal.
As the fire continued to spread over the entire 80 acre site, buildings, machinery, vehicles, and conveyors were damaged and/or destroyed. Firefighters deployed multiple hand lines and two aerial ladder trucks, flowing in excess of 2.5 million gallons of water in their suppression efforts. The incident commander requested a firefighting helicopter to assist, but none were locally available.
Fire suppression efforts were concluded at approximately 4:00 a.m., however, dozens of bark and wood products piles were still smoldering, creating a smoke cloud that continues its wind-driven drift.
Swanson Bark and Wood Products has taken over the overhaul phase of the suppression, utilizing loaders and excavators to move the product while extinguishing. Swanson has also contracted with two helicopter services to aid in full suppression. It is expected that this fire could smolder for days, and if winds pick up, active fire could again be encountered.
Air Quality Advisory
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Southwest Clean Air Agency issued an air quality advisory for the Portland metro, Lower Columbia River and Southwest Washington area due to smoke from an industrial wood fire in Longview, Washington.
DEQ and SWCAA expects the air quality advisory to last into Tuesday and potentially longer, until the fire stops smoldering.
DEQ’s air monitor on Sauvie Island showed unhealthy, or red, air quality on Monday morning. Monitors in north Portland and along the 1-5 corridor showed moderate, or yellow, air quality.
Smoke can irritate people’s eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. Small children, adults over 65, pregnant women, and people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions are particularly vulnerable.
People can take the following precautions to protect their health during periods of severe smoke:
• Stay inside if possible and avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
• Be aware of smoke in your area and avoid places with highest concentrations.
• If you have asthma or heart or lung disease, follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
• Use certified High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems.
• Be a good neighbor—limit or refrain from outdoor burning and woodstove use while communities respond to COVID-19. Read the request from state agencies to voluntary refrain from outdoor burning.