By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – After three days of pulling apart a dozen 20,000 square-foot buildings to extinguish smoldering hot spots at the Onalaska chicken farm that burned, the all-volunteer fire department was able to turn the scene over to the property owner yesterday.
Firefighters from the state Department of Natural Resources finished their work the night before and put the fire on patrol status yesterday, Lewis County Fire District 8 Fire Chief Duran McDaniel said this morning.
The fire that rolled through 175 acres of grass, tree lines and briars on Wednesday destroyed 12 large chicken barns, three or four tractors and one fire engine-tender that was abandoned when a wall of flames jumped a fire break where a crew was defending a large propane tank.
The farmer’s house was saved as was a neighbor’s barn and several other structures,
Neilson’s chicken farm is located on the 200 block of Gore Road, west of Salkum.
“I can’t thank all of the volunteers enough,” McDaniel said.
In a phone interview, the chief’s voice broke as he spoke of the help his department got from fire districts in three counties. And crews from Pacific County were on standby, he said.
“It’s overwhelming,” McDaniel said this morning.
Over the past three days, members of his department, with some help from Lewis County Fire Districts 6 and 1, worked until midnight, he said.
Eight of the 12 barns contained chickens. Thousands of chickens perished and with the heat, most were consumed, he said. Each wood-framed, metal-sided building measured 40 feet by 500 feet long.
They worked with crews from Draper Valley Farms and tractors, pulling back the metal to make sure everything was extinguished and to get rid of all the heat, he said.
A spokesperson with the Mount Vernon headquartered poultry company said 200,000 chickens were lost. Draper Valley owns the chickens; the farmer raises Draper Valley’s chickens under contract, according to Julie DeYoung.
“It’s a tragic situation and we are working with the farmer to minimize the economic impact from losing this flock,” DeYoung said. “We are thankful that no one was injured fighting the fire.”
Chief McDaniel said two very large stockpiles of sawdust have sprinklers on them, and will probably have to be torn apart as well to make sure nothing reignites.
“We’re blessed, we have volunteers that work opposite shifts,” McDaniel said, meaning they would leave to go to their regular jobs at different times.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has said the fire is believed to have been sparked by a tractor-brush hog operating in a field.
The fire, among the largest seen in Lewis County, prompted evacuations for a mile around. Residents weren’t given the all-clear to return home until almost 8 o’clock on Wednesday night.
Officials have been warning all season that the exceptionally hot and dry summer is presenting extreme fire danger. Two weeks ago, McDaniel and his department assisted neighboring Lewis County Fire District 1 with a wildfire that was the largest McDaniel had seen in more than three decades – the Gish Road fire was 102 acres.
This fire was nearly twice as large.
“DNR confirmed the fire behavior we saw has only been seen in Eastern Washington,” McDaniel said.
All outdoor burning is banned. Only closed-lid barbecues are allowed.
Last night, McDaniel said, he responded to three calls for prohibited activities, including one campfire and two parties burning open-propane fires.
His message to members of the public today: “Please, please, observe the burning regulations.”
For background, read “Onalaska chicken farm and almost 200 acres consumed by wildfire” from Thursday August 20, 2015, here