Chemical leaked into waterways, DEQ says

As many as 30 agricultural chemicals were released into the air and soil during a three-alarm warehouse fire in northwest Medford Friday, though only one was confirmed to have spilled into local waterways, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said.

Aquashade, a blue dye that prevents algae growth in ponds by blocking sunlight, was observed in a ditch along Sage Road between Mason Way and Ehrman Way, as well as in a catch basin near Ehrman Way that leads to Elk Creek, DEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati said Tuesday.

There's no evidence the chemical flowed to Elk Creek or Bear Creek or impacted wildlife, she said.

"We have not observed a fish kill," Benenati said.

The Oregon Vineyard Supply warehouse at 640 Mason Way contained pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers that leaked in the fire, DEQ said.

The chemical spill in the water has been contained, according to OVS CEO Matt Novak, but cleanup of the building site has been delayed because it's structurally unstable.

"There needs to be some reinforcement work on the building to make it safe," Novak said, adding that the ceiling joints were damaged in the fire. Engineers and contractors are bracing the structure.

Fire marshals must wait until the hazardous materials are removed before resuming their investigation of how the fire started, Jackson County Fire District 3 spokeswoman Ashley Lara has said. The fire started around 6 p.m. Friday and took more than two hours to knock down. No one from OVS was in the building at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries. At least two other businesses who shared space in the building were impacted by the fire. 

Roseburg-based First Strike Environmental Co. has been tasked with the cleanup, and is reporting its findings to the DEQ.

At least 60 gallons of agricultural chemicals, including herbicides, fertilizers and insecticides, were released during the fire, according to an inventory list submitted to the DEQ. 

Benenati said chemical cleanup will involve pressure-washing the ditch line near Sage Road, cleaning the culvert and excavating away soil contaminated by the chemicals.

Novak said the McMinnville-base OVS specialty agriculture supply company is still accommodating local customers out of its Salem and McMinnville warehouses, and that the company's three local employees have been able to work remotely and haven't lost hours because of the fire.

“Not only are they not losing hours, they’re getting more hours,” Novak said.

“We are absolutely open for business."

The company hopes to secure a new warehouse facility by the end of the week, Novak said.

Damages to OVS' inventory and to the warehouse, which property records show belongs to Fjarli Properties LLC, are not yet known, Novak said. He also did not know whether the building is beyond repair.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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