Mountain of legumes fuel fire in Walla Walla

WALLA WALLA -- Flames shot more than 50 feet in the air as three fire departments fought a fully engulfed mountain of legumes Friday night.

The fire at the Blue Mountain Seed, Inc., 203 E. Oak St., was called in around 11 p.m.

Two buildings, each approximately 80 feet in length and 40 feet wide, housed thousands of tons of chickpeas -- the fuel for the fire that took two hours to control.

Nine hours later, the fire still was burning, as smoldering sections buried deep in stacked apple bins or loose piled mounds kept firefighters continually dousing the smokey areas as of 9 a.m. today.

An inversion trapped smoldering chickpea smoke, forcing the white cloud to cling close to city streets and fan out in a northwest direction all the way to the Washington State Penitentiary.

Those most severely affected neighbors lived several feet east of the seed company's fields, on the west side of the 500 block of North Palouse Street, Walla Walla Fire Department Captain Steve Sickles said.

No injuries were reported, and damage to neighbors' homes was kept to several houses with cracked paint or melted siding, he added.

On the west side of the seed company, the La Quinta Inn sits a couple hundred feet away. Guest services manager Keshia Arland said they had many complaints and a few customers who checked out, but they were able to move most guests to rooms on the opposite side of the building.

Officials were uncertain how long the thousands of tons of chickpeas will continued to smolder. Sickles said he expects that the entire mound will have to be torn apart so that water can be applied to the smoldering areas.

No cause has yet to be reported, but Sickles said it was "suspicious" and that anyone with information is asked to call the Walla Walla Fire Department at 527-4429.