Thanks to an informative story by Capi Lynn in today's print edition of the Statesman Journal, we learned the cause of the August 23, 2023 brush fire in south Salem known as the Liberty Fire, because it was adjacent to Liberty Road.
The fire grabbed the attention of me and our neighbors out here in rural south Salem because we live off of Liberty Road about five miles from where the fire started. Yes, that's quite a ways, but brush fires can move very rapidly under windy conditions.
And of course the fire was of vastly more concern to the people living near the Liberty Fire. Fortunately, quick competent fire fighting work led to only 50 acres being burned, with no homes lost, though quite a few people had to evacuate their homes.
That's the good news. The bad news in the Statesman Journal story, which I found deeply disturbing, was that Terry Kelly, the owner of the property where the fire started, allowed his grandchildren to ride ATVs in tall grass, which caused the fire.
The [Salem Fire Department] report confirms what the newspaper reported the day after the fire. It originated in a field at 6331 Liberty Road S. and was caused by the hot exhaust of an ATV contacting dry vegetation.
The property owner is listed on the report as Terry Kelly, a local developer familiar to many in Salem. He is a former partner in Pence/Kelly Construction and Creekside Golf Club.
Kelly also is listed in the Liberty Fire report as a witness. He did not respond to an interview request.
It's too bad that Kelly wouldn't talk to the Statesman Journal, because he has a lot to answer for. Kelly talked with an investigator from the Fire Department on the day of the fire. He said that he'd given permission to his grandchildren to ride ATVs on the property. While they were taking a lunch break, the fire broke out.
There's essentially no doubt that the ATVs started the fire. A neighbor saw black spots behind the ATVs, with the fire becoming clearly evident soon after.
The Fire Department ruled out the other two possible causes: there was no evidence of a power line starting the fire, and no evidence that sunlight hitting glass in the grassy field started the fire, as Kelly hypothesized. The investigator searched for glass in the field and didn't find any.
Hopefully Terry Kelly will talk to a reporter before too long, because the public needs to understand what was going through his mind when he allowed his grandchildren to ride ATVs on his property. All the signs pointed to him needing to tell them a big loud NO!
-- the ATV's were operated in tall dry grass
-- four 100 degree days happened in Salem the week before
-- Marion County had said that ATVs could only be used on improved roads, except for farming
-- local officials had warned about increasing fire danger