LFD battles vacant house fire on Ash St.

Firefighters in Lebanon switched from fighting fire to evacuating a neighborhood on Tuesday morning when a natural gas leak threatened the scene.

Firefighters were dispatched at 3:53 a.m. to 543 W. Ash Street. At 3:57 a.m. the first arriving unit described a single-family dwelling with heavy fire from the rear of the structure.

A second alarm was called at 4 a.m., as the Lebanon Fire District was short one 2-person crew which was on a non-emergency transfer from Lebanon Community Hospital to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. The additional alarm brought an engine and a truck from the Albany Fire Department to the scene to assist Lebanon’s two engine companies and brought engines from Sweet Home, Brownsville, and Scio to cover the fire district while crews worked the Ash Street fire. A medic unit from Albany was also brought to Lebanon to provide ambulance coverage to the district until the Lebanon medic unit returned from Corvallis.

As crews began to stretch hoses to the rear of the structure they reported hearing the telltale sound of a natural gas line venting at high pressure. Closer investigation revealed that a gas meter, later determined to be a riser line, was engulfed in fire. One team of firefighters was assigned to closely monitor the burning gas line which isn’t inherently dangerous when on fire and the NW Natural Gas Company was called to the scene.

LFD Division Chief Jason Bolen describes the reasoning behind allowing the gas line to burn.

“Essentially it’s similar to lighting your gas stove at home.” he said. “Turn on the gas, light the burner, and the flame consumes the gas being expelled with little negative effects. However, if you turn on the gas but never get the burner lit the gas will pool and disperse throughout the area and potentially find its own ignition source. When that happens, a large explosion is likely.”

Firefighters continued to watch the gas line fire while other crews battled the blaze within the approximately 900 square foot structure.

Crews were nearly at a point of containing the fire when the gas line fire suddenly self-extinguished. As high-pressure natural gas began to fill the air, the Incident Commander quickly called all crews away from the scene and began an immediate evacuation of an approximately 300-foot radius around the fire building.

Residents were in the process of being evacuated to the intersection of Fifth and Ash Streets as fire authorities contacted the City of Lebanon to request buses for temporary warmth and shelter.

A crew from NW Natural had just arrived on the scene and quickly worked to hand dig their way to the gas supply line in the front yard of the residence. Once they reached the line they were able to clamp off the supply of gas and secure the leak. Residents were allowed to return to their homes and firefighters resumed suppression operations.

The cause of the fire is unknown at this time, and members of the Lebanon Fire Investigation Team have convened on the scene to conduct a formal investigation. The home was unoccupied at the time of the fire and it was insured, according to the property owner. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries to report. 10 Lebanon units and 15 personnel responded to the scene. Damage was contained to the building of origin with the exception of a broken window on the second story of a neighboring home which cracked from the radiant heat of the fire. The home value was estimated at $92,000.

Firefighters were on scene for approximately four hours. Anyone with information about this fire should contact Division Chief Jason Bolen at the Lebanon Fire District, 541-451-1901.