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Foothills wreathed in smoke from burning almond shells
A pile of almond shells that caught fire Saturday is still burning this week, creating billows of smoke at the base of the western foothills between Arbuckle and Williams.
The cause of the fire is listed as spontaneous combustion, Arbuckle Fire Chief Casey Cox said.
Almond shell or hull piles are a common threat in Colusa County, but fighting them with water does little good, said Cox.
Arbuckle, Williams and Maxwell firefighters left the scene at Cortina Hulling & Shelling on Evans Road Saturday evening after responding to the initial call that late afternoon. Early Sunday afternoon, wind from the west helped the fire jump to another pile, which had been salvaged. At 6:30 p.m. it spread to a grassy area, which was put out by 7 p.m., said Cox.
"It sounds like sloppy work by all of us. But it wasn't. It just was a losing battle with the wind," Cox said.
He said that water is not great for the scenario and the strategy is to isolate piles and let them burn.
"It's like you light your barbecue briquettes and they're gray. It's hot, but its not this crazy fire," he said.
Piles of hulls accumulate throughout the year, and the almond by-product is turned over as a commodity used as livestock feed or for co-generation.
Cox said he has seen fires in the piles a lot, maybe a handful a year.
"Through the year, it's stockpiled. The weight starts creating friction and heat and any kind of moisture will start the fire," Cox said.
Jennifer Manhart, office manager at Cortina Hulling & Shelling, said they try to reduce risk by covering the pile to keep it dry.
The pile that caught fire on Saturday was uncovered because they were preparing to truck it out, she said.
"It's really nobody's fault. It's just Mother Nature," Cox said.