WHITE CITY — Firefighters got two sawdust fire calls to Biomass One Sunday afternoon. The second quickly turned into a three-alarm fire, damaging three buildings.
"We initially got a call around 2 p.m. and the second one came in just after 5 p.m.," Fire District 3 spokesperson Ashley Lara said. "It escalated to a second alarm very quickly and a third alarm shortly after that."
Firefighters reported flames more than 25 feet high as smoke billowed up high above Highway 62. Hours later, more than a dozen engines and more than 30 fire personnel from agencies across Jackson and Josephine counties as well as Oregon Department of Forestry were still pouring water from high above two smoldering buildings and the grassy fields surrounding them. A second shift worked into the night.
The origin and location of the fire triggering the second call was unclear. But ignition was apparently on Biomass property that stretches south of Avenue G to property owned by Western Veneer & Slicing and Medford Moulding. Flames worked around the Western Valley Cutstock property, scorching a strip of land to the north and into a field farther east owned by Boise Cascade, across Highway 62 from the Goodwill store. The grass fire portion was estimated to consume about three-quarters of an acre.
Western Valley Cutstock, located on a 10-acre lot east of Biomass One, mills alder and redwood lumber into finished products such as frames and moulding in a 60,000-square-foot plant. The firm was founded in 1992 and employs 50, according to its web page. Mark Strickland is the company's president.
"We're heading into a red flag warning (Monday)," Lara said. "We had pretty high temperatures and some pretty strong wind as well, which influences fire to move quickly."
It was unclear whether there were employees at work at the milling plant or how many were working at Biomass at the time. There were no reported injuries.
"I wouldn't say fires at Biomass are really common, but just with the fuel load they have they are more prone to have fires," Lara said. "Things like this are so spontaneous."
Avenue G was closed between Highway 62 and 15th Street on Sunday night.
Lara said mop-up operations would continue through the night. Medford Fire-Rescue, ODF Southwest Oregon District, Jackson County Fire District 5, Lake Creek Rural Fire Department, Grants Pass Public Safety, Illinois Valley Fire District and Rural Metro Fire Josephine County assisted in the firefighting efforts.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.