Island fire

Plumes of smoke build columns above a controlled burn on the private property portion of the island near Ontario State Park on Saturday.

ONTARIO — Ontario Fire started receiving numerous calls on Saturday morning regarding a fire by the westbound lanes of Interstate 84 near the state park, as the smell of the undergrowth and old dead trees burning on the island and the rising smoke column could be noticed across town.

However, according to Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton, the man who owns the portion of private property on the island had a control burn permit.

While a burn ban went into effect on Saturday, the ban does not apply to controlled agricultural burns, which this was, according to Leighton.

Firefighters responded, but with water all the way around and the controlled burn staying on the private property, they decided to let it continue to burn.

The island area, near the railroad tracks and Ontario State Park, is a known area for homeless camps. As to whether those people were notified of a potential burn, Leighton said he asked the owner if they were notified.

“He said him and the [Malheur County] Sheriff had been out there and said they were going to clean it up,” the fire chief said, however added that they did not tell the people they would be lighting a fire and that nobody should be in the area.

There were no reports of injuries or personal property damage related to the fire, however, as he was not in Ontario this weekend, Leighton went out on Monday to walk through the area himself and see whether the fire made it into any homeless camps.

The island area comprises three landowners: a private citizen, the state of Oregon and Payette, with the majority of homeless camps being on those public lands.

The fire did flare up and jump onto part of the state land on Sunday, Leighton said, adding that his crews quickly responded.

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