A fire west of Philomath that engulfed an 1,800-square-foot barn last week and threatened to spread to forestland and nearby homes may have originated from a lawnmower stored in the barn, according to Philomath Fire & Rescue officials.
“It is likely that the fire started in the leftover grass and hay in the lawnmower grass catcher,” said Capt. Rich Saalsaa, “although that could not be verified with the extent of damage. The fire cause is officially listed as undetermined at this time.”
Firefighters were dispatched to the fire on Dorset Lane, roughly a mile west of Philomath off of Old Peak Road, at 3:21 p.m. on Aug. 5.
Firefighters witnessed a large column of black smoke on their way to the scene, and upon arrival, the pole barn was fully engulfed. Flames had spread to a nearby tree and grass leading to the forest.
Witnesses who called 911 reported hearing explosions, which Saalsaa attributes to tires and small gasoline containers that were stored in the barn. Four propane tanks in the barn vented their gas, as they are designed to do, Saalsaa said. That prevented explosions but contributed to the rapid fire growth.
Firefighters first extinguished the tree and ground fire, knowing that the barn would be a total loss, Saalsaa said, in order to prevent further spread that threatened neighboring homes. A small spot fire ignited on Ada Drive from flying embers; that fire was quickly extinguished by assisting firefighters from the Corvallis Fire Department.
Saalsaa and Jonathon Jones, deputy state fire marshal, investigated the fire. The barn owner’s game camera revealed that the fire started in the middle bay of the barn where a riding lawnmower was stored, Saalsaa said.
Decomposition of organic material, such as grass and hay, can spontaneously combust under the right circumstances.
“Homeowners are cautioned to make sure no accumulated grass or hay — particularly damp grass or hay — is stored anywhere that heat can build up and start a fire,” Saalsaa warned.
The building and contents of the pole barn were a total loss. Philomath Fire was aided by the Oregon Department of Forestry, Corvallis Fire Department, Monroe Fire Department, Alsea Fire Department, Blodgett Fire Department, Albany Fire Department and Adair Fire Department.