By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Local officials yesterday joined state ecologists in warning residents not to swim or play in Olequa Creek after all species and sizes of fish, insects and other living organisms were killed for five miles downstream of Tuesday’s warehouse fire.
The early morning blaze in Winlock destroyed a 14,640-square-foot building. Runoff from the fire’s extinguishment that included cooking oil reached a storm drain, and seeped into Olequa Creek behind the building.
Olequa Creek is a tributary to the Cowlitz River.
Lewis County Public Health & Social Services cautions the public to stay out, at least to Ferrier Road and avoid any water with a visible sheen of oil.
Bill Teitzel, the department’s environmental services supervisor, indicated that local staff have inspected the area and will continue to monitor the situation.
Spill responders by Wednesday afternoon had already filled two 21,000 gallon tanks with oily waste water, according to the state Department of Ecology. The number of dead fish is most likely closer to thousands rather than hundreds, the state agency said.
The warehouse stored grocery products.
Authorities confirmed with the building’s owners they had recently received 1,124 gallons of vegetable and canola oil, according to the state agency. They also stored vegetable shortening.
DOE hired Cowlitz Clean Sweep from Longview to assist with the cleanup and both were on the scene on Tuesday. Seventeen personnel with at least seven response trucks were on site on Wednesday.
They are continuing today to recover oil from the creek, using absorbent pads and vacuum trucks and have utilized sand berms and other methods to keep more polluted water from entering the waterway as the fire’s extinguishment has been ongoing.
The creek itself is not a drinking water source, or, more specifically, Lewis County Public Health is not aware of any approved drinking water source from Olequa, according to Teitzel.
The state Department of Ecology identifies the warehouse as belonging to Olympic Trading Company. The building and the property are shown by the Lewis County Assessors Office as 915 N.W. Kerron St. and owned by Alternative Logistics LLC.
State authorities indicated the responsible party, the warehouse owner, is out of the country but has been cooperative.
Department of Ecology crews and cleanup contractors are expecting to keep working through the weekend and eventually move into a longer term passive cleanup program, according to Teitzel.
The cause of the fire is being investigated by Sgt. Sam Patrick of the Toledo Police Department.
For background, read “Winlock fire reduces grocery product warehouse to charred frame” from Tuesday August 18, 2015, here