Centralia, Wash., Department Puzzled as How to Cope With Problem—Fire May Have Resulted from Spontaneous Combustion

THE storage of “hog fuel,” a comparatively new venture among the mills of the Pacific Northwest, has resulted in a stubborn fire in such a pile in Centralia, Wash. The pile of fuel that has been giving the Centralia, Wash., fire department a continuous battle, is above and beside a one million dollar plant located at one side of a railroad track. The hog fuel is the overflow from the mill and it is being stored as a reserve fuel in the event that the regular supply fails. The pile has been accumulating since July 1925 and at the present time is about three hundred feet in diameter and one hundred feet high. It contains approximately one thousand carloads and represents a fuel value of $48,000.

F. B. Wilcox, chief of the fire department, believing that the pile of fuel formed a potential hazard because of its proximity to the business district, took up the problem of liability and fire hazard with several insurance organizations but their opinion was that the pile did not constitute an additional hazard and that spontaneous combustion in this type of fuel was unknown.

The Hog Fuel Pile That Has Caused the Trouble The upper illustration shows a large crevice that was formed in the pile by a cave-in, and the lower one gives an idea of the size of the pile. The hose lines may be seen stretching over the pile and several sprinkler heads are in operation.

During the early spring of this year this pile was observed to be steaming considerably from the top. This continued all summer but not much attention was paid to this as it was thought that the steam resulted from the heating of the pile. At 11 :00 a. m. August 5, 1926, the south side of the pile, or approximately one fourth of it, was discovered to be afire. Owing to the dry weather it burned quite rapidly but it was extinguished without much trouble by the mill crew and the local fire department. At the time, the cause of this was attributed to an overheated cable block. Later it was found to have started from spontaneous combustion a short distance under the surface. On August 9, one side of the pile was discovered to be afire burning under ten or twelve feet of fuel. As it could not in any way have caught from the outside, it was then realized that there was a fire burning in the pile which covered considerable extent and would probably be hard to extinguish. From the location of the fire it was decided by the mill officials and the officers of the fire department that probably by cutting in on the side of the pile and around it, the fire could be headed off before it could travel deep under the pile. The fire department laid two lines of three-inch hose siamesed to a large nozzle. They worked about fifteen hours cutting out this section and washing it away. No attempt was made at this time to put water on the top to extinguish the fire as it was believed that the water would run off rather than penetrate the pile. The large high pressure stream was used to wash the side of the pile away. After about fifteen hours of work a crack at the top of the pile about three feet wide was formed and since there was danger of a heavy slide, this method was abandoned. At this time the mill officials and Chief Wilcox conducted a very thorough investigation and gathered all the evidence they could on what caused the fire—whether spontaneous combustion or from an external cause, and also the best method of extinguishing it. Mill men, other fire officials and men who represented the insurance interests were consulted. Very little knowledge was gained from these sources as no one had ever had any experience in this particular line

It was decided to put a sprinkler system on all places thought to be afire and to watch the development while seeking for more information. A four inch water main was run to the foot of the pile, with connections on the end two one and one half inch hose. A fifteen foot pipe was laid at the end of this hose and on each end of this pipe was an open sprinkler head. These sprinkler sections were moved around the pile from time to time as the fire threatened to break out near the surface. Also men were stationed at different times with a fire hose, pouring water above the places which seemed to be on fire. Both the sprinklers and the fire hose seemed to have only accomplished one purpose, that of keeping the fire under control but it did not succeed in keeping it from breaking out in unexpected places.

After an investigation covering sixty days, H. M. Jones, Mill Superintendent and Chief Wilcox have concluded that the fire was not set and that the cause was spontaneous combustion in pockets of cedar sawdust. It was found in several instances that these pockets of cedar sawdust started to burn near the surface of the pile and in some cases burned up the cedar but did not ignite the surrounding fir, sawdust, and hog fuel. This belief was strengthened by the fact that for the last sixty days all cedar sawdust and slabs are used up immediately, and all the fir, sawdust and hog fuel had been piled on one side of the old pile and there is no fire in this new section, although there is one or more large fires and probably a dozen smaller ones in the old section At this time due to the sprinkler system, the passing of the hot dry summer days, and the heavy rains in the past few weeks, the outside of the pile now shows very little evidence of the fire inside. The fire will probably continue to smolder along without many outbreaks until the next dry season, at which time any outside fire on the pile may assume the proportion of a real menace to the mill and city.

It is now planned to put in a donkey engine with a drag to cut this pile in two, separating the newer fuel from the old, and to fire their entire battery of boilers from the old pile until it is used up. During the time required to do this, the fire will be checked by the use of sprinklers, fire hose and the possible rainfall. This company’ has had practically this same experience with the pile of fuel at their other plant in this city (The Western Crossarm and Lumber Manufacturing Company) except that in every case where the cedar was burned, the fire burned out after consuming the cedar, and none of the surrounding fir, sawdust, and hog fuel was ignited.

The investigation has lead to the belief that this fuel will not heat while under cover. It is also believed that mills that are storing hog fuel and are not troubled with spontaneous combustion, saw only fir logs, and not cedar timber. The officials of the Centralia plant now believe the only solution to this fire hazard is to do away with the old pile and hereafter not to store any more cedar.

New Assistant Chief Named for Manitowac, Wis.—Chief J. J. Kuplic of Manitowac, Wis., has advanced Captain John Gaedke to the office of assistant chief.

Boston, Mass., Starts the New Year Wrong—The first eight fire alarms received in Boston, Mass., after the arrival of the new year were false alarms. The first actual fire was that caused by an overheated furnace.

Albany, N. Y. Improves Department—Along with the $730,000 bond issue passed for Albany, N. Y., there was a provision of $65,000 for the fire department. This amount was used to purchase a water tower, a 1,000-gallon pumper, one delivery truck and touring car for the chief. In addition, $15,000 was used for alterations and improvements to two fire stations. The department is now looking forward to the time when they will purchase a fire boat.


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