BEND, Ore. - A bark mulch fire that heated a small propane bottle, causing it to vent and ignite, caused $25,000 damage to a northwest Bend home Thursday afternoon, officials said.
Bend firefighters responded around 3:20 p.m. after a next-door neighbor reported the fire in the 2200 block of Northwest Deschutes Place, fire Engineer Luke Stott said.
Officials said the homeowners were not home when the fire ignited.
Neighbor Noemi Garcia-Chavez told NewsChannel 21 she started smelling a lot of smoke through her bedroom window, and at first, she figured her neighbors were barbecuing at the time. About 10 minutes later, however, she said she smelled what seemed like a gas leak, and then saw flames.
"Just like an explosion,” Garcia-Chavez said. “It was just -- it was bright orange, and it went into the air and it hit the top of his roof."
When crews arrived on the scene, they said the fire already had been extinguished by neighbors with a garden hose.
Stott said an investigation determined an apparent bark mulch fire heated a five-gallon spare propane bottle that was not connected to a barbecue in the backyard. That caused the bottle to vent gas and catch fire, in turn burning the home's exterior.
No flames extended inside the home or into its attic, Stott said. Crews finished putting out the fire and removed smoke from inside the structure.
Bend Fire Captain Scott Wyman said, "We recommend that bark mulch, anything that's combustible, not be used anywhere that it can spread to other combustibles, especially a home -- and then, of course, especially any kind of grill or campfire.
"We don't want to see any of that kind of combustible landscape material anywhere near that appliance," Wyman added.
Officials are still trying to determine how the bark mulch caught fire in the first place.
But they have noted in the past that thousands of bark mulch-related fires happen across the U.S. each year, especially on warm, sunny days, as the wood in deep mulch cannot easily dissipate and can catch fire.They recommend spreading mulch in thin layers, and not placing it directly against homes or near potential sources of ignition.