A Jackson County Fire District 3 firefighter pours water on a pile of about 60 tires that burned between Avenue A and Highway 140 in White City Monday afternoon. - Bob Pennell

Tires, vehicles destroyed in blaze

WHITE CITY — Sparks from rivet-grinding triggered a Monday afternoon tire and grass fire that sent a 30-foot ball of fire and a thick smoke column skyward in White City, authorities said.

The fire at a grassy lot at 4100 Avenue A included several disabled vehicles and a collection of about 60 tires, whose ignition created the fireball and smoke, according to firefighters at Jackson County Fire District No. 3.

"The thing really took off and put up a huge column of smoke," said Don Hickman, the district's deputy fire marshal. "There was a fireball 30 feet tall inside that smoke column. That thing was putting out a lot of energy."

No one was injured in the fire, though two small outbuildings suffered some damage, Hickman said. Firefighters were able to prevent flames from engulfing a 20- by 60-foot shed and its contents, he said.

In all, the fire covered about an acre of the lot, which included extremely dry grass and several vehicles in various stages of disassembly, Hickman said.

One of the tenants told firefighters that he was grinding rivets off a truck chassis when sparks ignited nearby grass, Hickman said. "He looked up and saw fire," said Hickman, who did not know the tenant's name. "It overran them before they could get garden hoses on it."

Firefighters were called at 1:16 p.m., and firefighters' hoses were first trained on the flames seven minutes later, Hickman said.

The tenant's identity was not available Monday. A telephone number associated with the property was disconnected.

With 18 percent humidity in the air and extremely dry grass on the ground, Monday's fire was an ominous foreshadowing of early July's traditional outburst of Independence Day grass fires, Hickman said.

"Fireworks just went on sale Friday and there's dry grass everywhere," Hickman said. "Though this wasn't fireworks-related, it's an indicator that the grass is extremely cured."

Fourteen district firefighters were joined by Oregon Department of Forestry crews on the fire, which took about 30 minutes to control and an additional two hours to mop up, Hickman said. Another grass fire broke out Monday afternoon near Willow Lake Resort, burning in less than 3 acres of grass and brush before it was surrounded and quelled, authorities said.

Rose Barr, a Willow Lake Resort camp host, said the fire burned on Jackson County and Forest Service land in a portion of the resort holdings along Willow Lake, off Highway 140 near the Klamath County line.

State forestry and Forest Service crews handled that fire, which Barr said erupted near an old debris-burn pile at the resort. No other information was available Monday from state forestry crews on that fire.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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