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Firefighters from Portland Station 18 Provide Mutual Aid at House Fire Caused by Spontaneous Combustion of Oily Rags



On Saturday, September 24, 2011, firefighters from Lake Oswego Fire Department responded to a house fire at 97 Garibaldi in Lake Oswego. When firefighters arrived, they found the garage engulfed in flames. Residents of the multi-level home were already standing safely outside and thankfully, no one was injured.

A second alarm was quickly called to bring in more resources to help gain access to the home from the downhill side of the street and to protect nearby homes.

Crews from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Lieutenant Eric and Firefighters Bret, Hans, and Ryan from Portland Fire & Rescue’s Station 18 supported suppression operations.

Fire investigators from Lake Oswego later determined that oil-soaked rags were to blame. The oily rags stored in the attached garage spontaneously combusted around 3:20 a.m. Fire then spread to the garage and to the 3,500-square-foot home. The fire caused an estimated $170,000 in damage.

Proper Disposal of Rags Contaminated with Oil/Oil-Based Product

Spontaneous combustion is caused by the breakdown of the oils in paints, stains, and other products. This breakdown generates heat and, if that heat is contained, it can build up to temperatures sufficient to ignite most combustibles like wood, rags, or paper. There are two recommended ways to dispose of rags contaminated with oil or an oil-based product. One is to spread them out in a single layer and allow them to dry completely for several days before disposal. The second is to put the rags in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid in a shaded area with good ventilation.

Citizens are urged to read the entire label on the products you buy and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Many products have the potential to cause spontaneous combustion, asphyxiation, or even explosions.

Helping Other Fire Agencies through Mutual Aid

When fire agencies provide emergency response and protection support to one another such as the situation described above, it is called “Mutual Aid.”  Portland Fire & Rescue currently participates in mutual aid agreements with all fire agencies bordering the City of Portland including the Port of Portland Fire Department, Vancouver Fire & Rescue, TVF&R, Clackamas County Fire District #1, Lake Oswego Fire Department, and Gresham Fire & Emergency Services. The goal of mutual aid is to lend or receive fire protection and emergency medical services assistance across jurisdictional boundaries. 

How Does Mutual Aid Work?

The City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Services (BOEC) receives a request by a neighboring fire jurisdiction asking for mutual aid assistance. Portland Firefighters are then contacted through normal dispatch procedures to respond to the structure fire or other significant event (e.g. hazardous materials, confined space, dive rescue) outside the City of Portland.  When PF&R needs assistance, the same process is used in reverse.

We trust and rely on the fact that if we do have a large scale incident here in the City of Portland, other surrounding agencies will provide further resources if called upon.  In addition, Fire personnel here at PF&R are committed to supporting and assisting other fire agencies that surround the City of Portland when in need.


   Portland Fire & Rescue 

   We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

   October 4, 2011 


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