Pilot Rock Lumber Dump Fire Burns On
Catch-22 alert: It’s too dangerous to just let it burn, but it’s also too dangerous for firefighters to extinguish. So what’s to be done about the on-again off-again fire at the abandoned lumber dump near Pilot Rock?
Environmental Fines Can’t Squelch Flames
Owned by Kinzua Resources and King Estate Winery owner Ed King, the Pilot Rock lumber dump has been burning off and on for years. The 20-acre landfill catches fire multiple times a year, seemingly without fail: it last caught fire in June, and the recent run of hot weather has locals expecting another flare up soon.
In 2013, King, along with Greg and Jeffrey Demers, the heads of Kinzua Resources and Lane County developers, were assessed a fine of nearly $800,000 dollars by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality following years of neglect at the decades-old dumpsite and for never officially closing it. The group appealed the fine; a contested case hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled for September.
Another fire on the site will result in another fine for the ownership group.
Pilot Rock FD Staying Away
In addition to the fires, which can produce enough smoke to blanket the entire town of Pilot Rock if the wind is right (wrong?), the lumber dump holds other potential hazards, such as sink holes. As such, the PRFD only fights fires around the perimeter of the site to keep the flames from spreading.
“[The fire department] won’t put men or equipment on top of that pile for fear of losing one or both,” said Pilot Rock Mayor Virginia Carnes.
“If someone fell in it, they could probably never get out,” said John Taylor, one of the dumpsite’s nearest neighbors. Currently, the dangerous site is bordered by nothing more than a barbed wire fence. Under the right conditions, Taylor says, a fire in the lumber pit could doom his home and many others in the area.
According to the Department of Environmental Quality, properly closing and blocking off the site would cost roughly $2 million. If things keep going as they are, King and the Demers will soon eclipse that total in fines.