Metal thieves get blame for small forest wildfires

Metal thieves get blame for small forest wildfires

30 July 2008

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USA — There’s metal in them thar hills. And people sneaking out into brushy areas to cut it up to sell for scrap are causing wildland firefighters to lose sleep.

“We’ve had four fires this year related to people cutting metal with a torch,” said Tom Fields, the spokesman for the Coos Forest Protective Association.

One of the fires happened Friday night in Greenacres along the Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad’s tracks next to Green Acres Lane. The agency sent a truck to the area around 8 p.m. to douse a small blaze in the grass. It turned out the fire was caused by someone using a metal cutting torch to dismantle a railroad car in the brush next to the tracks. Portions of the rail car had been removed.

The metal salvage market is booming right now.

“Considering the amount of scrap metal salvaging going on, we’ve been lucky so far in that the fires we’ve had haven’t caused much damage,” Fields said.

The Coos County Sheriff’s Office and CFPA are investigating the incident. On Saturday, forest officers found a small pickup truck at the scene, with a cutting torch in the back. They arrested a Coos Bay woman walking a dog in the area on a warrant charge and questioned a Coos Bay man about the pickup truck, but did not make any other arrests.

CFPA regulates what people can do in rural areas, relating for fire prevention.  Right now, the agency is enforcing a regulated use closure that makes it illegal to cut, grind and weld metal on lands protected by CFPA.

Fields said someone cutting up metal caused a brush fire in Cave Junction a couple weeks ago. It charred 69 acres and by the time firefighters put it out the bill totaled $250,000. When it comes to these kinds of brush fires, just because someone might pay taxes that support firefighting agencies doesn’t mean they won’t get the bill.

“If they determine who the responsible party is (and) that person is in violation of the regulated use closure in the district, they would be held responsible for the fire suppression costs,” Fields said.

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