The Campbell River Fire Department tweeted this photo of a mulch fire on Midport Road, in an industrial area in North Campbell River on Monday.

Pile of wood mulch ‘spontaneously combusts’ at Vancouver Island industrial site

Business owner thanks fire department for quick response

Spontaneous combustion caused a large pile of wood mulch to catch fire at an industrial site in Campbell River on Monday, says local fire chief Thomas Doherty.

He says the phenomenon is not uncommon when heaps of damp wood chips or mulch are involved, due to water heating up inside the pile.

“Over time, as the temperature changes, they will start to heat up inside the pile and basically spontaneously combust,” he said. “The pile will start to burn deep inside.”

Firefighters were dispatched on Monday afternoon after someone reported flames rising from the pile.

Crews attended the scene with a fire engine and tower truck, which they used to get “deep water penetration into the pile,” Doherty said.

Firefighters estimated the burning pile was roughly 50 feet high and 100 feet wide, he said.

The business itself used heavy machinery to take apart the pile and used a hose to continue putting out the fire once firefighters got it under control, he said.

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John Ellis, owner of Courtenay-based Pacific Wood Waste, thanked firefighters for their quick attention to the incident.

“They were a tremendous help,” he said. “It’s situations like this that you realize that they’re such an asset to have.”

He said the woody composting material is used for fuel at pulp mills and landscaping.

On Tuesday morning, ashy debris was visible in a pile of bark mulch at the site. Steam rose from the wet pile, and a worker said he used an excavator to remove the top of the mulch and ensure water entered the heap.

An image from Google Maps shows the approximate location of a chip fire that took place in an industrial area of North Campbell River on Aug. 19, 2019.  

Doherty said there was no risk to the public or any structures in the area, noting that a good fire break surrounded the pile, though he added that spot fires could result if the weather was hotter and more embers were coming off the pile.

He said the fire department has encountered the issue of spontaneous combustion of wood debris before.

“We had a few calls out there this year already for that same pile, and every year we have the same thing,” he said, adding that similar issues crop up at another yard waste facility in Campbell River.

A pile of wood mulch ‘spontaneously combusted’ in North Campbell River on Aug. 19, 2019, according to the Campbell River Fire Department. A worker is shown at the scene on Aug. 20. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

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