Vertol helicopter helps extinguish bark dust fire in Washington

helicopter Vertol Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
A Vertol, operated by Columbia Helicopters, helped to suppress a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

(This article first appeared at WildfireToday.com)

The report below is from Longview Fire Department:

On April 12  at 2:37 p.m. a passerby called 911 to report a bark dust fire at Swanson Bark and Wood Products, in Longview, Washington about 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon. The company specializes in taking wood waste and turning it into useful products, including firewood, mulch, bark dust, and soils.

Responding to 911 calls at Swanson Bark is not an unusual occurrence because the large piles of bark dust and other products off-gas regularly as a natural part of the composting and 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 en route, 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.

map Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Satellite photo showing the location of a bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.

When Longview Fire arrived they encountered a large bark dust 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, combined with the available water supply all created challenges 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 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 suspended at approximately 4:00 AM, however, dozens of bark and wood products piles were still smoldering, creating a smoke cloud that continued to drift.

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

On April 13 Swanson Bark and Wood Products took over the overhaul phase, utilizing loaders and excavators to move the product while extinguishing the fires. Swanson 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.

Firefighters from Longview, Kalama, Cowlitz Fire District 1, Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue, and Woodland were utilized to extinguish the blaze. Resources included pumping fire apparatus, ladder trucks, water tenders, and brush rigs. Firefighters have yet to complete an investigation, and no damage estimates are available at this time. There were no staff or firefighter injuries reported.

Bark dust fire Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020.
Bark dust fire at Longview, Washington, April 13-14, 2020. Photo by Longview Fire Department.

The video below is from the Longview Fire Department.

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