A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

After this fire, an excess of caution?

Written August 29th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

If anybody really wanted to see the Talking Water Gardens, these measures probably didn’t keep them out.

You can’t say Albany city officials are not cautious. Overly, extra, super cautious sometimes. As when they kept Simpson Park and the Talking Water Gardens off limits a full day after a fire nearly a mile away was put out.

On Wednesday afternoon, on one of my regular routes, I encountered improvised “closed” notices at the entrance to the Water Gardens and the trail along the Willamette River into Simpson Park, and on the trail at Bowman Park as well.

The signs at the Water Gardens invited people with questions to call Public Works. When I called, the helpful voice on the other end said the area remained closed to the public because the fire of the day before might be still be smoldering.  Never mind that it’s about a mile from the Gardens’ gate to the fire site, and in between there’s the length of Second Lake.

The fire erupted on the back acreage of Wah Chang (ATI Albany) in Millersburg at about 11 Tuesday morning. Firefighters from all over the mid-valley responded. By 1:16 p.m. Tuesday, Albany Fire was able to report on Facebook: “Smoke from fire scene, located at 1600 Old Salem Road, is from a natural brush and debris fire. Smoke will linger as we continue to put out hot spots. Scene is de-escalating.”

The trouble with keeping closures going for longer than necessary is that people will ignore them, and having realized that there was no danger, they will learn that “closed” warnings — absent visible signs of trouble — can be ignored without risk. So the next time, or the time after that, when there’s a real risk, somebody might actually come to harm despite the signs. (hh)

At the entrance to the Simpson Park trail on Wednesday afternoon.to

At 6:10 tonight (Wednesday,) just after I finished the commentary above, the Albany Fire Department, posted this account:

“Albany Fire Department and other local agencies continued fire mop-up work today, August 29, 2018, at ATI Specialty Alloys and Components (SAC).  The fire was first reported yesterday, August 28, 2018, at 11:16 a.m., on the SAC property at a material staging area.  Within that area, the fire impacted a flatbed trailer along with staged materials, including clean fiberglass ducting.  The fire then moved through grass and wooded area, City of Albany Simpson Park and property belonging to International Paper, creating smoke that was reportedly seen throughout Albany.  Firefighters were able to contain the fire around 3:00 p.m. yesterday, but remained onsite through today cleaning up hot-spots and assuring the fire was checked within its fire lines.

“The SAC property is within a federal Superfund site.  Although the fire is still under investigation, ATI does not believe any hazardous substances associated with the Superfund site were involved.  Please refer future questions on the cause of the fire to ATI PIO Scott Minder.  

“Fire personnel will complete their work on site today at 5:00 p.m.  Future visible smoke from the International Paper property is possible as a settling pond with layers of wood pulp burned during the fire.  ATI will continue to provide water suppression to the International Paper property until which time it is determined to be safe to stop.

“One firefighter was transported with a non-serious injury.  As a precaution, Albany Police Department and Linn County Sheriff’s Office evacuated fifteen people from Simpson Park and Talking Waters Park.  No ATI employees needed to be evacuated.  The following agencies provided firefighters and suppression equipment to fight the fire:  Albany Fire Department, Jefferson Fire District, Halsey Fire, Adair Rural Fire & Rescue, Lebanon Fire District, Scio Fire District, Stayton Fire District, Philomath Fire & Rescue, Monroe Rural Fire Protection District, Turner Fire District,  and Oregon Department of Forestry.  Corvallis Fire Department covered emergency calls for the City of Albany during active firefighting.”

The fire department released this photo of the ATI fire scene.


And this one too.

5 responses to “After this fire, an excess of caution?”

  1. William Ayers says:

    Thanks for this report. I was in the area and smelled the fumes but didn’t know the source. The fumes did have a noxious smell. I hope there are no health consequences to nearby neighborhoods.

  2. Doug Klinkebiel says:

    Sounds like another, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Hasso. Or as they say, better to error on the side of caution. However, they should certainly be removed today.

  3. J. Jacobson says:

    Hasso, you need a Kickstarter fund to get yourself one of those mini-helicopters to ease your way into these breaking stories.

  4. J Murphy says:

    I agree about the warning fatigue syndrome. It’s like “Flagger Ahead” signs on roads, I unscientifically swear there is a flagger about 20% of the time. Still in this case, I guess an abundance of caution isn’t hurting anyone.

  5. centrist says:

    The key word in the story is “necessary”. The gummint wasn’t lazy or slow. Seems they set up a safe-distance perimeter to shield the public from harm. Mayhap an apology is needed.


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