HayFire CoryW

An employee of Haykingdom in Winters streams water on the burning embers Friday of 10,000 tons of hay that ignited Thursday night. The fire is expected to burn for several more days. Cory Golden/Enterprise photo

Crime, Fire + Courts

Four-alarm hay fire still burning; air quality watch in effect

By From page A1 | September 29, 2013

An air quality watch remains in effect for Yolo County as a massive, four-alarm hay fire north of Winters burns on.

Smoke from the fire stayed aloft through Saturday afternoon. The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District kept the watch in place because of concerns that as the fire cools and weather changes, smoke from the 10-acre blaze on the Haykingdom property, 26888 County Road 90, could settle.

The watch is set to expire at 10 a.m. Monday. The fire likely will burn for at least another two or three days.

Residents are asked to close windows and doors and avoid strenuous outdoor activity if they smell smoke. They should take steps to protect those particularly susceptible to unhealthy air, including young children, the elderly and those with asthma, heart disease or lung disease.

By midday Friday, smoke reached the ground in Livermore. A wind change saw some landing near Yuba City and Lincoln early Saturday morning.

At about 10:30 p.m. Thursday, firefighters called to a grass fire at the Putah Creek Road exit off Interstate 505 spotted something to the north.

“As they were coming up, they could see a glow,” said incident commander Ron Karlen, division chief for the Dixon and Winters fire departments. “Then they looked to their left and saw a bigger glow, headed for it and stumbled across this.”

The fire appears to have started in stacked, tarp-covered hay bales on the northwest corner of the property. With ample fuel, low humidity and winds blowing from the north at 20 mph, it quickly became a “fireball” just yards from the interstate, Karlen said.

Heat and blowing embers ignited neighboring stacks of hay. Flames shot 200 feet in the air.

“It looked like a forest fire,” Karlen said.

At one point, more than 100 firefighters from Yolo, Solano, Sacramento and Colusa counties were on the scene with 20 engines and 12 water tenders. They were hamstrung by a lack of easy access to water, making runs to a hydrant almost two miles south.

It was only at about 1 p.m. on Friday that Karlen said he started feeling as though firefighters had managed a measure of protection for the six remaining barns, an office building and at least one other outbuilding on the property.

The blaze has caused more than $3 million in damage, an estimate that includes the four destroyed barns and a hay press, worth about $2 million, housed in one of them, Karlen said. That figure does not include the value of more than 10,000 tons of hay, according to Haykingdom office manager September Ford.

Fire investigators are due to go to work Monday.

Along with firefighters, who took breaks in the shade with sacks of burgers, the company had enlisted an outside contractor and its own employees with earth movers, tanker trucks and hoses.

Karlen said he hoped to push the piles of burning hay and debris as far away from the other buildings as possible before turning the fire over to property owners on Friday night.

The charred, muddy ground, twisted metal and at least one blackened tractor amid the piles of burning hay looked “nuked,” in the words of one firefighter.

A hay exporter, Haykingdom has locations in Nevada, Washington and Oregon, as well California. It built the Winters facility in 2002.

One firefighter suffered minor injuries and a Winters Fire Department brush fire truck was caught up in the fast-moving fire. Karlen said Friday he didn’t know how badly it had been damaged.

Another injury was suffered away from the fire. Just before 2 p.m. Friday, 19-year-old Jessica Bassett of Winters became distracted by the distant plume of smoke while driving southbound on County Road 93A.

Her blue 2000 Toyota 4Runner left the pavement and rolled before coming to rest in a field, according to California Highway Patrol officer Bryan Konvalin.

Bassett suffered minor injuries, including cuts. She was taken by ambulance to Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center.

To receive air quality alerats, see http://ysaqmd.enviroflash.org or follow the district on Twitter @YoloSolanoAir or on Facebook.

— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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