A barn near Deer Island caught fire Wednesday evening, sending a local hired hand who tried to quell the flames to the hospital suffering smoke inhalation.
On June 19, firefighters with Columbia River Fire & Rescue (CRFR) responded to the barn fire in the 64000 block of Pinkney Road. The man who was eventually treated for smoke inhalation was worker Jesse Kintz, who said there were nine workers in the barn when it first caught fire.
“We were running hay across the elevator to get it back to the other side,” Kintz said. “Hay built up around it, there was a power surge, and it lit the hay on fire.”
Kintz said normally the hay elevator motor is elevated so the hay goes around it, but the crew was running it flat.
“It’s hard to explain exactly what happened,” Kintz said. “To my logic, the motor was so hot because of how much hay were running and that’s probably what caused it.”
Kintz, who worked as a firefighter for a time in South Dakota, was the first to begin directing water at the fire. You can see his efforts to control the flames in the video attached to this article. His co-workers, Josiah Oliver, Colby Drake, and Gabe Pierce also attempted to fight the fire.
“It’s just natural instinct for me to grab a hose and try to get it under control,” Kintz said. “I was right where it started. One of our other people on our crew got a hose and went around the backside spraying at it, also.”
Kintz said he tried to stall the fire’s growth for about ten minutes before he decided there was nothing else he could do.
The call to the fire department went out at 7:57 p.m. and firefighters arrived just under 20 minutes later at 8:14 p.m. That night’s CRFR Battalion Chief, Josh Marks, said it was fortunate the fire happened during a volunteer drill night with ample manpower already gathered.
“On Wednesday nights, we go out and we do training and it’s a different training every week," Marks said. "We had a lot of people up there that were able to get there pretty quickly – a lot more man power than we typically do for fires. Typically, we get the call and we have to figure out which one is going from home. That night, they were already there at our training facility ready to go.”
Upon arrival, crews found a fully involved structure fire quickly spreading to the home, shop, and surrounding fields and timber, according to CRFR.
“The big challenge was the amount of hay,” Marks said. “Hay fires are always difficult to put out because they just like to burn and burn and burn. The reason it went up so quickly was the amount of material there in the barn.”
Firefighters worked quickly to deploy hose lines and keep the fire from spreading to the nearby structures and wildland areas. Marks said the firefighters didn’t necessarily fight the barn fire itself. By the time they arrived, the barn was already fully engulfed and the priority became saving surrounding structures.
“There were two barns on the property," Marks said. "If we attempted to put the actual barn fire out, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We just didn’t have enough water. We would have spent hours and hours wasting water and fuel just to put water on a fire that was going to burn anyway. The barn just to the side of the main barn was actually on fire when we arrived. The house was not yet on fire and didn’t catch fire.”
However, Marks said, the deck to the house was on fire when crews arrived. The quick actions of firefighters saved the nearby exposed home and shop, preventing numerous tools and a vintage car from going up in flames.
Since the large barn was also full of hay and equipment, it tossed embers for several hundred yards. The situation forced firefighters to search the outlying areas of field, brush, and timber to suppress numerous spot fires to make sure they were completely quelled.
“The secondary potential fires we aggressively fought and saved by deploying hose lines and getting everything out there,” Marks said.
Kintz, meanwhile, said he was trying to help get everything else under control.
“I was trying to get the cattle moved for the owners,” Kintz said. “I started getting light-headed and having a hard time breathing from the smoke, so I decided to go check out with the medic. He told me I should head in and get checked out.”
Long, narrow, rural roads and no nearby hydrants hindered firefighters’ efforts to get to the fire quickly and extinguish the blaze, CRFR officials said. Water had to be trucked in from Dyno Noble on Highway 30, a 20-minute drive one way.
Crews remained on site throughout the night and into Thursday to make sure the fire didn’t spread any further. Scappoose Fire District and Oregon Department of Forestry also responded and assisted with the firefighting efforts.
“Over the years, my position has been to be a big supporter of our volunteer responders. They do not get paid, and we had one guy that stayed out there all night to make sure it didn’t get out of control,” CRFR Public Information Officer and Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, Jennifer Motherway, said. “They respond mostly from home and they take time away from their family to come do this huge job to protect the community, and that’s pretty impressive.”
The volunteer who stayed out all night, Raichel Steven, worked to check for hotspots to make sure other fires did not ignite.
“Everyone else rotated through and rotated out. I usually can’t keep my volunteers all night because they have to work, but he’s a stay-at-
home dad and he had the ability to stay out there with childcare all day to be able to help us out, which was a big thing for me,” Marks said.
“That fact that he was willing to give that much time and not get paid for it is huge,” Motherway said. “He gets kudos and knows he did something great to help the community, but we don’t pay them, so we appreciate them.”
According to CRFR, the barn contained numerous items including boats on trailers, farm equipment, tools, and approximately 750 bales of hay. Due to the large size of the structure fire and its contents, a total dollar loss was not immediately available.
All video courtesy of Kristine Brownlow and Gabe Pierce.