Crew waited for backup, the wait most likely saved lives, says fire official

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ARCATA, Calif. (KIEM)-Arcata Fire District was dispatched to hay on fire inside of a barn at the 800 block of Mad River Road in the Arcata Bottoms Sunday.

As firefighters prepared to go inside to fight the blaze, the hay pile collapsed, and then the barn unexpectedly burst into a ball of flames.

The initial crews on scene waited for backup before entering the building – this most likely saved their lives.

“The initial response include multiple water tenders because this is a non-hydrant area,” said Battalion Chief Sean Campbell.

Crews arrived to a more than 14,000-square-foot structure, with small flames coming from inside the building.

“I arrived first, I reported light smoke coming from the barn,” said Campbell.

The initial engine deployed hose lines to prepare for a fire attack.

“Seven minutes into the incident, conditions were still the same, he said. “The smoke conditions started to change about 20 seconds later,” he said.

Which according to Campbell, was most likely caused by collapsing hay bales, then a cloud of smoke.

“Erupted (fire) into flames, it was just a huge ball fire with black smoke.”

A time lapsed video taken from Campbell’s dash cam shows light smoke emanating from the barn, within minutes, the structure was fully evolved.

Campbell says, typically crews go inside for small fires.

“Thankfully, I hadn’t put anyone inside because I don’t think that the firefighters could have got out in twenty seconds, it just happened so fast,” he said.

Campbell has been fighting fires for more than 30-years and says he’s been to plenty of barn fires.

“I’ve never experienced that, usually we see the structure start to burn,” he said.

In this case, the hay pile collapsed which caused a dust explosion, followed by a ball of fire.

“For it to change the way it did, I don’t have an explanation for that right now,” he said.
“So yeah, were going to do some research and try to figure out what exactly caused that.”
He says, he will start by speaking to his peers and other departments.

“And see if we can pick their brain, but it is definitely going to change the way I approach a barn fire,” he said. “I don’t think that I will ever put a firefighter inside of a barn again it’s just not worth it.”

No injuries were reported, fire investigators believe spontaneous combustion of hay, is what caused the fire.

The excavator is done, however, crews aren’t able to extinguish the flames – as there is about 187-tons of hay still burning, according to Battalion Chief Sean Campbell.
He says, due to a lack of resources and water, the hay will be left to burn -which will be last for about a week.