An Ounce Of Prevention

Biomass One will take steps to cut back conditions that sent smoke from recent fires across White City
Jackson County Fire District 3 crews douse a large bark fire at Biomass One in White City on Sept. 18. The facility is changing how it stores bark in the wake of two recent fires.Jamie Lusch

Biomass One will reduce the size of a massive bark pile and add additional water lines in response to two fires last month that choked White City with heavy smoke and tied up fire department resources.

The fires, sparked in the towering bark pile along Avenue G and Agate Road, occurred four days apart in late September and sent massive columns of smoke into the sky that were visible for miles.

"Anytime the pile burns, it's a dramatic event," said Dave Allen, Biomass One fuels manager. "It's not acceptable. The smoke really affects the residents and businesses nearby. We don't want this to happen again."

Crews shut down Avenue G between Agate Road and Highway 62 as they doused the flaming sawdust hill with water from high-pressure hoses.

Allen said the pile was 100 feet tall when the fire started. The pile grew high over the past two months because the market for the bark had slowed, causing inventory to build up.

Biomass One is a 30-megawatt, wood-waste cogeneration plant that annually recovers 355,000 tons of wood waste, according to the company website. The recovered wood waste is turned into electrical or steam power. The company also sells bark chips for landscaping.

Allen said the company won't allow the pile to grow larger than 60 feet.

"When the material just sits around, it dries out, and that's when these issues happen," Allen said. "We have until Nov. 15 to get the pile down to 60 feet."

Allen said the company should reach that deadline because the market for its fuels has picked up recently.

Hugh Holden, fire marshal with Jackson County Fire District No. 3, said 100 feet is too high. It makes fighting a fire at the top of the pile difficult.

"It's hard to get water on it from that height," Holden said. "The size of the pile contributed to the fire spreading, because the flames were high up where the wind is. We think 60 feet is more manageable."

In addition, no other pile on Biomass One's property will exceed 25 feet. The company plans to demolish a warehouse to make room for an extra pile, Allen said.

Holden said the bark fires are a drain on the district's resources.

"We have to send several engines and firefighters to them because we don't want the fire to get out of control," Holden said. "We don't want to be sending all our resources out on a regular basis to fight this type of fire."

The company is in the process of adding additional water lines around the property, as well as opening lanes between piles that will allow emergency vehicles to move easily around the area in case of a fire, Allen said.

Holden said it's not uncommon for the district to work with a business to encourage better fire-suppression practices.

"Biomass One has been very cooperative with us," Holden said. "They knew it was an issue that needed to be better managed, and they are on the road to doing that."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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