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Conveyor belt fire shuts down quarry

A fire sparked by a welding project destroyed a conveyor belt for moving rock at a Knife River Corp. quarry on Highway 140, shutting down the gravel mining operation Tuesday.

The fire was reported at about 9:30 p.m. Monday by people who spotted flames from a distance, said Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Battalion Chief Greg Winfrey.

Firefighters responded, but couldn't get through locked main gates and had to travel a winding back road through a neighboring landfill to reach the gravel pit, he said.

The rubber belt that moved rock from a hilltop mining area to a crushing and loading area down the slope burned for several hours, said Mike Crennen, president of the Knife River Southern Oregon Division.

He said a mechanic had worked on the machinery earlier Monday and some hot metal from cutting or welding apparently had fallen onto the belt and started a small, smoldering fire, unnoticed by the worker. Hours later, when no one was at the quarry, the undetected embers ignited and consumed the belt that moved rock between 1,000 and 2,000 feet.

Fire officials initially estimated the damage at between $100,000 and $200,000.

Crennen said that if the steel structure was harmed, the loss will be that much, but inspectors were still examining the metal for damage Tuesday. Replacing the belt and scorched rollers will only cost $25,000 to $50,000, he estimated.

"Things looked worse at first," Crennen said.

Mining crews started the repair work Tuesday and if expensive fixes aren't needed, mining operations could resume as early as today, he said. Gravel loading and deliveries weren't interrupted.

A Knife River conveyor belt that moved rock from the mining area to the loading area top of the photo, caught fire Monday night closing the mining area of the Dry Creek Rd. area quarry for a day. Pennell photo - Bob Pennell