Faulty loader causes fire at paper recycler

This Lents business could have quickly vanished in an inferno, if not for firefighters – and sprinklers…

Firefighters converge on a cardboard recycling plant in outer East Portland when a wheel-loader catches fire.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The dispatch of Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews on November 2 at 9:13 p.m. brought a fast-moving parade of vehicles through Lents Town Center to a recycling depot at the edge of Freeway Land Company property.

When the crew of PF&R Lents Station #11 Engine Company arrived at 6328 SE 100th Avenue near Foster Road, followed in by the engine crew from Gilbert Station #29, firefighters reported seeing flames in the loading dock of Rock-Tenn Company – which is part of an international producer of corrugated and consumer packaging and recycling solutions.

Working through thick smoke and steam, fire crews check for remaining flames.

Firefighters quickly laid in water lines, training the hoses on fire coming from a wheel-loader – a hefty, tractor-like machine used to scoop up and dump recycled materials.

Because, inside and out, this facility was full of quick-to-ignite paper, fiberboard, and waxed corrugated cardboard, an arriving Battalion Chief quickly called for a second alarm to bring more resources to the scene.

Using a working forklift, company workers remove a bale of charred, recycled cardboard from the fire area.

As it turned out, fire crews had help putting out the fire – an automatic fire extinguishing system had triggered, spraying down the area from the high ceiling.

With the fire out, a loud bang-and-boom sound visibly startled some of the firefighters. It turned out to be a stack of bailed, recycled materials falling over in an area of the plant that had been vacated.

As the smoke clears, the huge burned loader comes into view.

“This fire was caused accidentally by a mechanical failure in the engine compartment of one of the loaders,” PF&R Public Information Officer Tommy Schroeder later told East Portland News.

“The flames didn’t extend much into the recycling debris,” Schroeder added. “The fire was contained by sprinklers until we were able to get more water on it.”

Other than the charred wheel-loader, and some lost production time, the losses to the business – yet unspecified – were said to be limited.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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