Coos Bay, OR Officials Looking for Incinerator Permits

An investigation conducted by the state fire marshal indicated last week's fire was ignited by heat from an incinerator.

The city of Coos Bay can't find any planning records regarding an incinerator that was pinpointed as the cause of a fatal fire Nov. 25 and the state has no air quality permits for the furnace.

"We do not have a permit application for the incinerator or flue, which would then follow that we have no inspection reports," said Community Services Director Shanda Shribbs.

But it appears Coos Bay should have that permit paperwork on file for Farwest Truck & Auto Supply or Automotive Machine Service.

According to the Oregon Building Codes Division, the city is responsible for inspecting structural building projects, including what are termed mechanical installations. An incinerator fits that definition and would require an installation permit, department spokesman Steve Corson said today.

The state only inspects plumbing and electrical projects within the city. Any structural work that may have been done without a permit would be under Coos Bay jurisdiction, although the state might become involved in taking action or issuing penalties, he added.

"The details make the difference here in what the appropriate action would be and the city has the program under its responsibility," Corson said.

State Uniform Building Codes aren't the only rules governing installation and operation of incinerators.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is charged with regulating discharges of air pollution in the state. An incinerator also must have a permit from DEQ.

"We had never received a permit for this incinerator," said Martin Abts, DEQ's Air Quality Program natural resource specialist based in Coos Bay.

"In fact, our rules are situated such that a small incinerator like that would be impractical to operate by DEQ rules," he said.

An incinerator operator must do periodic pollution emission tests and, Abts said, permitting is expensive. He estimated it could cost a small company up to $2,000 a year.

More than a decade ago due to increasingly stringent emissions rules, many businesses particularly hospitals closed their incinerators because it was too costly to meet the rules.

According to Abts, the DEQ never received any complaints about pollution at Farwest.

An investigation conducted by the state fire marshal indicated last week's fire was ignited by heat from an incinerator used by Automotive Machine Service, an independent company owned by Jonathan E. Inskeep operating inside Farwest. The automotive machine shop used the incinerator to burn hydrocarbon wastes, the fire marshal report indicated.

The flue, which reached temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, apparently ignited a wall and roof structure inside the building and could have burned undetected for up to four hours before firefighters were called, according to fire investigators.

On the last Monday in November, Lt. Randy Carpenter and firefighters Jeff E. Common and Chuck Hanners were killed fighting a fire inside the burning structure. The men were battling a blaze that became ferocious when oxygen fed a smoldering fire. Chemical supplies including aerosol cans, paints, paint thinners and other chemicals inside the building then fueled the raging fire that shot plumes of black smoke hundreds of feet in the air.

Shribbs said city employees are continuing to scour records that may not have been computerized to track down any permits or inspections that may have been done at the building.

"We are continuing to try to determine if we have anything else and we'll make it available as soon as we can find it," Shribbs said.

Coos Bay's planning records of the building at 340 S. Second St. date back to 1956, when the operation was known as Littrell Supply Company, which at the time was owned by Portland-based Automotive Equipment Company.

According to records from the Coos County Assessor's Office, the structure was built in 1938 and remodeled in 1965. The 13,520-square-foot building was purchased in 1990 from First Farwest Leasing by Kim and Sandra Macfee for $92,000.

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