By TAMMY MALGESINI
HERMISTON, Ore. -- What started as one bale of hay on fire resulted in an estimated $1.5 million -- $1 million in hay alone -- in damages, Hermiston Fire Marshal Tom Bohm said.
Firefighters were dispatched Thursday around 12:30 p.m. to the wind-whipped blaze after receiving a report of a hay fire at Pacific Ag Solutions, 2995 S. First St., south of Hermiston. A large plume of dark smoke quickly filled the air and could be seen throughout the area.
Bohm said employees were chopping hay away from the driveway when one of the bales caught fire. Although they attempted to put it out, he said their efforts were futile with the wind. According to the National Weather Service, the wind was blowing south to southwest at 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph.
"The wind blew more embers into the hay and the hay sheds," Bohm said.
The value of the lost hay, Bohm said, was preliminarily estimated to be about $1 million. The rest of the damages, valued at about $500,000, included hay sheds, tools stored in one of the sheds and about 40 large tractor tires.
Hermiston Fire and Emergency Services received mutual aid from Stanfield, Echo and Umatilla fire departments. In addition, Bohm said Boardman was on stand-by with an engine and Pendleton with an ambulance.
Sitting in the office at the West Umatilla Mosquito Control District, Office Administrator Janie Cuellar could see the plume of smoke.
"All I saw was a puff of black smoke and from there it was just engulfed in the hay," she said.
Jim Stearns, chairman of the mosquito district board and a former Hermiston fire chief, was at the mosquito office for business.
"It certainly spreads in the wind," Stearns said knowingly from past experience. "The air gets to it and it's hard to stop."
The hay sheds, Bohm said, are structurally compromised from the extreme temperatures. As for the fire, he said it likely will continue to burn and smolder for a week.
"There's no water out there. We're going to just let it burn out," he said.