DEQ: Fish kill likely a result of mill fire

DEQ: Fish kill likely a result of mill fire
Water from a fire hose hits a hot spot at the Swanson Mill on Thursday, July 17, 2014.

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Heat and debris from the Swanson Mill fire combined with firefighting efforts likely contributed to the death of an "abnormal" number of fish in the Springfield Millrace along the Willamette River, the Oregon DEQ said.

The fish kill prompted a public warning to stay out of the Millrace and avoid the Willamette River from Island Park downstream to Alton Baker Park.

"The fire produced a lot of heat on both sides of the mill race, which puts a lot of stress on fish, increased temperatures," said Geoff Brown with Oregon DEQ. "There were some caustic tanks that were lost in the fire. Then with the firefighting efforts, some of that stuff made it to the mill race through the storm water system."

Those factors likely combined to raise the pH level in the water.

Brown said the pH was only extremely high right up by the Swanson Mill.

Most of the dead fish were smaller.

Some live fish were found, so the water quality issue didn't kill everything in the water. Fish in the water appear to now be doing fine.

Still, DEQ has directed firefighters and others working on the mill site to take steps to avoid further contamination.

"We're paying very close attention to how they're managing storm water so there won't be any additional runoff to the millrace that could contribute to additional problems in the future," he said.

The Eugene-Springfield Fire Department placed a boom across the millrace to collect materials from the water.