HERMISTON - An unattended burn barrel and a mild breeze are to blame for a fire in a 20-ton stack of hay bales Wednesday afternoon at a west Hermiston ranch.
Although the fire destroyed a shed and threatened about 10 horses at 79516 Prindle Loop Road, the blaze spared a house, garage and corral.
Rawley Stanley, the owner of the property, wasn't at home. He left about two hours before to drive to Reno, Nev.
Stanley started a fire in a 50-gallon drum about an hour before departing, but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, he said during a telephone interview Wednesday evening.
"It's kind of strange," he said.
The horses were in a corral next to the flaming hay stack. All were moved to a nearby corral and none were injured. The horses belong to customers of Stanley, who is a professional horse trainer.
Driven by the wind, the fire scorched a black path through dry grass several hundred feet long, past the shed and eventually to the hay stack. If the wind had forced the fire in other directions it could have caught fire to Stanley's house, garage and another corral.
More than a dozen firefighters were dispatched to the scene at 2 p.m. when a neighbor, Jerry Hoffman, spotted the blaze. He attempted to quell the fire with a garden hose, but it was no match for the flames, he said. His next course of action was to move the horses out of danger.
"It wasn't too exciting after we got the horses out," Hoffman said.
Stanley spoke to the East Oregonian from the road, and said after hearing the news he figured the worst was over and would finish the trip he started.
"There wouldn't be much I could do at home," he said.
Firefighters pounded the flaming hay stack with a water cannon mounted on an engine in hopes of saturating it and extinguishing the fire that could be smoldering under the surface.
Capt. Pat Hart of the Hermiston Fire Department said it was the only alternative to sending a big piece of machinery in to tear the pile apart so regular fire hoses could put it out.
"You could pour water on it all day and it won't get inside," he said.
Hart said that because the barrel did not have an adequate burn-proof perimeter surrounding it, and because it was left unattended, Stanley could be fined.
"Had he endangered anybody else's property he could be criminally liable," Hart said, but added that he doubted a fine would be imposed. "It costs us to come out here, but for the most part that's what you pay taxes for."
Hermiston Fire Marshall Tom Bohm later said it was not likely Stanley would be fined.
But Bill Smith, a neighbor of Stanley's, said a fine may be in order.
"I hate to see anybody get a fine," Smith said. "But he should have been more careful."