PORT ANGELES — A fire that burned a section of pier at the former pulp mill site now owned by Rayonier Advanced Materials early Tuesday morning was likely unintentional in origin, authorities said.
“We don’t have anything to suggest it was anything other than accidental causes,” Mike Sanders, Port Angeles Fire Department assistant chief, said late Tuesday afternoon.
Port Angeles Fire Department and Clallam County Fire District 2 crews had left the 75-acre waterfront parcel 2 miles east of downtown by about 1 p.m. Tuesday after spending nine hours squelching the blaze, Capt. Jamie Mason of the Port Angeles Fire Department said.
The area that burned was about 3,000 square feet, a 100-foot-by-30-foot section that was built of wood, concrete and steel with a concrete slab over the top.
It had been the site of the mill’s finishing-room warehouse just east of a 4-acre pier.
The blaze might have been smoldering for several hours before an area resident called Peninsula Communications dispatch at 4:17 a.m. Tuesday to report seeing smoke, Mason and Sanders said.
“We found basically a campsite set up — small camping propane bottles, sleeping material, clothing, reading materials — right where it started,” Sanders said.
“The indication was someone was camping underneath there.”
After Mason arrived shortly before 4:30 a.m., the area became fully involved in flames.
Mason said heavy equipment was used to take off six inches of concrete slab atop the pier posts, exposing hot spots underneath.
“We were able to put Class A foam and water to get it down to steaming,” Mason said late Tuesday afternoon.
Randy Boston is the contract caretaker for the 75-acre parcel owned by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Rayonier Advanced Materials.
The mill has been closed since 1997 and its buildings razed. It’s been undergoing environmental cleanup for nearly two decades, with current efforts focused on planning for cleanup of the east Port Angeles Harbor area adjacent to the site.
Boston said homeless people frequently stay on the property and appear to have gravitated to the sheltered area where the fire occurred.
“There’s no power down there; there is nothing to start a fire,” Boston added. “They come in for the night sometimes, hang out, build a fire. There is enough room for them to squeeze in there.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].