Winlock warehouse fire

(Information on this site is considered to be accurate at the time of posting, but is subject to change as new information becomes available.)

Ecology was notified that runoff from a warehouse fire at the Olympic Trading Company in Winlock was entering a storm drain. Oily water and foamy emulsified oil (not  firefighting foam) is entering Olequa Creek, a fish-bearing stream that is a tributary to the Cowlitz River.

Summary information

Date of incident:  December 18, 2015

Winlock, WA

Type of incident: Unknown
Cause of incident: Under investigation
Responsible party: Olympic Trading Co.

Status updates

September 2, 2015

The source of oil runoff from the warehouse site is now contained and the stormwater system has been cleaned. Soil contaminated by oil at the stormwater system outfall has been removed and erosion control put in place.

Ecology and Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists and spill responders have determined that no further response or oil recovery efforts along Olequa creek will be effective.

The owners of the warehouse are scheduled to sign a contract today to have the warehouse demolished and removed. Ecology will continue to work with the owners and Cowlitz Clean Sweep to finish the disposal of liquids and solid waste generated from the spill. At this point, Ecology is calling an end to the emergency response phase of the Winlock warehouse fire and spill.

August 31, 2015

Over the stormy weekend Ecology responders visited the site to check the containment berm at the warehouse and creek.

The creek continues to show signs of improvement.

Small amounts of emulsified oil pooled behind the absorbents and boom. The remaining oil in the creek is starting to solidify. Ecology plans to remove the containment boom and absorbent from the creek by mid-week.

The berm at the warehouse successfully contained run-off Saturday and Sunday. A crew is scheduled to pump out the bermed area today and empty the accumulation.
The reminder of this week Ecology crews will maintain and monitor the bermed area at the warehouse until the owners are able to get the debris cleaned up and the source of the oil removed.

Work will also focus on the disposal plan for the on-site baker tanks, and solid waste removal from the site.

Lastly, responders will remove containment boom and absorbents from creek.

August 27, 2015

Ecology and Cowlitz Clean Sweep have been working to clean up the Olequa Creek and warehouse fire site since last week. The appearance of the creek  improved significantly over the past several days. Approximately 3.7 miles of Olequa Creek were impacted. Reports indicate over 1,100 gallons of cooking and vegetable oil were in the warehouse at the time of the fire. Ecology is using this number as the potential volume of the release.

Some unburned oil may remain in the warehouse. Other products that may have contained oil have not been identified. Workers have been collecting and removing oily water from creek, warehouse site and impacted soils with oil absorbing pads and sweep, portable skimmers, hand tools, and vacuum truck.

Berms have been constructed at the warehouse site to minimize runoff and aid in collection by vacuum truck. The total volume of oil collected has not yet been determined.

The impacted stormwater catch basins and underground line to the discharge point on the bank of Olequa Creek have been cleaned. Oily soil has been removed and erosion protection installed on the bank of the creek from the storm water outlet.

Coordination has occurred with warehouse owners, representatives from local, state, federal and Tribal agencies, and the media. Estimates of the oily materials collected include: 65,500 gallons of oily water, 17 cubic yards of oiled sorbents; and 8 cubic yards of oily soil.

In addition, one dead muskrat was found and collected. It is unknown if it was killed by the discharge to the creek.

Numbers and Types of Fish Killed
Biologists from Ecology, WDFW, and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service estimate that between 66,000 and 100,000 fish were killed over the impacted 3.7 mile stretch of Olequa Creek (downstream to the confluence with Ferrier Creek, which apparently provided adequate dilution to prevent further fish mortality). As much as 90% of the fish killed were sculpins. WDFW identified the dead fish collected as:

  • juvenile coho.
  • juvenile steelhead/rainbow trout.
  • coastal cutthroat trout (juveniles and adults).
  • brook and pacific lamprey (juveniles and adults).
  • sculpin (all sizes).
  • redside shiners.
  • crayfish.

Cause of the Fish Kill
The cause of the fish kill is likely a combination of several factors. Stressful conditions due to low stream flow and extended periods of hot weather resulted in warm stream temperatures. These conditions typically lead to low oxygen levels in the creek. Contaminated runoff from the warehouse fire added a flush of hot water plus oils and other possible contaminants to the creek. Fish and other organisms living in the creek are sensitive to a variety of impacts that can lead to stress, injury and death. Depletion of oxygen below sustainable levels, the toxic effects of chemical contaminants including constituents of many oils, coating of gills and scales from oil (including vegetable-based oils), and rapidly increasing water temperatures are examples.

Ecology has no plans to conduct the extensive testing required to attribute a single, primary cause of the fish kill in Olequa Creek. More than likely, it was a combination of the factors listed above. Ecology and WDFW have seen similar, but less extensive impacts at the locations of other large structural fires where water runs off the fire site enters streams or lakes.

Planned Actions
Even though conditions in Olequa Creek have improved, oily residue remains on woody debris, shoreline vegetation and rocks. Most of the impacted section of the creek was walked on August 26.

Pockets of emulsified oil and sheen remain, but none that can be collected and removed. The log jam located just downstream from the storm water outlet has been a focus of attention for oil collection. It is now deemed clean and no attempts at flushing, wiping or cleaning are planned.

Heavy rain is expected over the weekend. Booms and sweep will remain in the creek as a precaution. The storm drain system at the warehouse site has been plugged and berms have been constructed to prevent the free flow of water off of the fire site. A vacuum truck will remain available to collect ponded water. Ecology expects to remove the remaining equipment and tanks associated with the environmental response next week.

Cleanup of the burned warehouse will be the responsibility the owners.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will decide whether or not to replant fish in the impacted section of the creek.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

August 20, 2015

Ecology crews and the contractor continue to work on recovering oil from Olequa Creek. Fresh absorbent pads are being placed on the creek to aid in passive collection throughout the night.

Firefighters have put out most of the hot spots remaining at the warehouse, and expect to be completed by the end of today.

Initial sampling results are in from the Ecology Manchester Lab, showing vegetable oil only. Test results for metals are expected late next week.

Tomorrow (Friday) work will continue to recover oil from the creek with Ecology’s contractor. The is strongly encouraged to remain out of the impacted area of the creek while active cleanup continues.

August 19, 2015

It appears that all species and sizes of fish, aquatic insects, and other aquatic organisms were killed for at least five miles downstream. Some prevention efforts put in place yesterday were overrun by the oil in the storm drain system, and additional oil reached the creek.

Operations will continue today to put out hot spots at the fire, and try to prevent further pollution from entering Olequa Creek.

No updated estimate on volume of oil spilled or fish killed are available yet.

Ecology spill responders and our primary response contractor have been working today to control and recover the oil that remains in Olequa Creek.

The source of oil has been contained at the burned out warehouse. Absorbent pads, sand berms and other materials are in place to prevent any further discharge to the creek. There is a visible oil sheen in the creek. Crews have been working at a log jam near the site in the creek to absorb, recover, and vacuum out the oil that has collected there.

On site are three large (21,000 gal) storage tanks for storing recovered oily waste water, two of which are already full. Ecology has deployed sweeps of absorbent pads along accessible portions of the creek. Currently there are two vacuum trucks and five response trucks from our contractor, along with 11 personnel. There were six Ecology staffers on site today as well.

Multiple species of fish have been killed but no total quantity so far. The fish kill appears to span to Russell Road, ~2.25 miles from the warehouse, but is not visible at Ferrier road, ~3.5 miles from the source. Natural Resource Damage Assessment crews are working to define the impacted areas.

The responsible party (warehouse owner) is out of the country but has been contacted and is cooperative. The owners indicated they recently received 810 gallons of vegetable oil, and 324 gallons of canola oil. It may take several days for Ecology to determine what portion of those 1,124 gallons spilled to the creek.

Along with Lewis County Emergency Management, Ecology encourages the public to remain out of the impacted areas in Olequa Creek while there is an active cleanup response - which may be ongoing for several days.

August 18, 2015

On August 18, at approximately 4:30 a.m. Ecology was notified that runoff from a warehouse fire at the Olympic Trading Company in Winlock was entering a storm drain. Ecology’s Spill Response Team and response contractor responded.

By mid-morning, the extent of the threats of the runoff were identified, with equipment and people in place to begin cleanup. Ecology hired Cowlitz Clean Sweep from Longview.

Currently, oily water and foamy emulsified oil (not  firefighting foam) is entering Olequa Creek, a fish-bearing stream that is a tributary to the Cowlitz River. Several dead fish have been observed. Ecology’s response is focused on containing and cleaning up the material in Olequa Creek with sorbents and vacuum trucks. The storm drains and system closer to the warehouse fire are also being cleaned.

Lewis County Fire District 15 continues to work on operations at the warehouse to address structural safety and hot spots.

The volume of discharge to the storm drainage system and Olequa Creek has not yet been determined, nor has the cause of the fire. No responsible party has been identified.

Our spill responders have spoken with people on scene and have confirmed the warehouse took delivery recently of a large amount of vegetable shortening, vegetable oil and canola oil. We believe this is the likely source of oil that reached Olequa Creek. No estimate on quantity yet at this time.

We’ve received information from one of our Natural Resource Damage Assessment Specialists that there is a significant fish kill in Olequa Creek for five to seven miles downstream. We don’t have estimation on quantity of fish killed other than it is most likely closer to thousands of fish rather than hundreds.

Media contact

Dave Bennett, Media contact,, 360-407-6239