Firefighters douse large pile of flaming junk

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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With a header of black smoke visible from miles away on Friday afternoon in the Battle Ground area, firefighters dealt with a large pile of flaming car parts, tires, metal, fiberglass and propane tanks near Northeast 72nd Avenue and 219th Street.

Firefighters were called at 4:41 p.m. Friday and arrived from a nearby station in about two minutes, said Capt. Eamonn Ryan with Clark County Fire & Rescue.

With one of several piles of rubbish burning in a large grassy field at a former longtime tow-company site, firefighters had to cut padlocks to get inside the fenced area.

The blazing pile was about 30 feet by 30 feet and eight feet high, Ryan estimated.

“The fire was so severe when we got there,” he said. “It was burning really good.”

No hydrants were nearby, so firefighters pumped water on the blazing pile from tanks on their engines and called for water tenders with tanks holding up to 2,500 gallons.

The Vancouver Fire Department and Fire District 3 also sent crews and machines.

“It was very difficult,” Ryan said. “We had to call in Clark County Public Works and they brought in a backhoe.”

The backhoe operator pulled parts of the pile apart so firefighters could douse them. Typically, 10 firefighters would work for a while as about six waited on standby.

The black smoke at the scene was so thick and toxic that firefighters with hoses near the pile had to wear full air tanks, face masks and other protective gear on the hot afternoon.

It took crews nearly two hours to bring the flames under control, and the last hot spots weren’t doused until about 7:30 p.m. when the last crews left the scene

Ryan said he was told that the property belongs to the state, and some piles consisted of buildings that had been torn apart to keep squatters out.

Determining the fire’s cause would be difficult because of its intense heat, Ryan said. He said he saw no people inside the large fenced-off area.

Despite working in the heat and smoke, no firefighters were reported sick or injured.

Ryan said he saw three other piles that didn’t burn, one of them containing perhaps thousands of old tires, which could cause serious problems.

The county Fire Marshal’s Office will ask state or county officials to remove the piles before it happens again, Ryan said.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.