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Cigarette to blame for fire at Wankers Country Store

Damage is estimated at $4,500; barkdust allowed fire to smoulder
by: VERN UYETAKE Fire investigators say an improperly discarded cigarette caused a fire that damaged the Wanker’s Country Store in the Stafford area.

An improperly disposed cigarette caused an early morning fire Sunday at the well-known Wanker's Country Store at 19995 Stafford Road.

A store employee was preparing to open for the day when she smelled smoke just prior to 7 a.m. Her 9-1-1 call prompted a single-alarm response by Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and Lake Oswego firefighters because the store is located in an area without fire hydrants.

Personnel on the first arriving engine - from station 57 on Mountain Road - reported light smoke and quickly determined that the fire had worked its way inside the first floor wall and had spread to the second story. Crews isolated the location, opened up the exterior siding and quickly controlled the small fire.

Walt Peck, public information officer for TVF and R, said the siding of the structure could not burn, but barkdust allowed the fire to smoulder and eventually erupt into flames.

After ensuring that the fire was fully extinguished, firefighters helped get the store operational. It reopened for business by 11 a.m.

Almost no damage occurred inside Wanker's, which has been a popular country store for 40 years. An employee said that the only difference noticed by customers is the smokey, barbecue-like smell that resulted from the blaze.

A TVF and R fire investigator determined that a cigarette caused barkdust, which was in contact with the side of the building, to ignite. Damage was estimated at $4,500.

According to Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office statistics, from 2005 to 2009 there were almost 6,400 cigarette fires in the state. These fires were responsible for 34 deaths, 133 injuries and an estimated $20 million in property loss.

TVF and R shared these suggestions to minimize the risk of fire when smoking:

* Use caution when smoking and discarding cigarettes. A cigarette is, in essence, an open flame.

* Extinguish and discard of your cigarettes in an ashtray or appropriate metal container with a lid.

* Do not use plant containers as an ashtray. Potting soil contains organic material and has the potential to ignite.

* Consider soaking cigarettes in water before discarding.

* Never smoke in bed or when drowsy.

* Keep barkdust and other organic materials away from the exterior of your home.

- Nicole DeCosta and Cliff Newell

contributed to this report