Sweat lodge ceremony started Williams wildfire, investigators say

WILLIAMS — Oregon officials say a 500-acre wildfire July 19 in the Williams Valley started at a nonprofit environmental education center where a sweat lodge ceremony was held.

Deputy Fire Marshal Charles Chase tells the Grants Pass Daily Courier two men told him they did a "Sun ceremony," digging a small hole for a bed of ash that heated rocks.

Chase said he referred them to Department of Forestry investigators.

Spokesman Brian Ballou says the fire began at Pacifica Garden. He says the department is trying to determine whether citations should be issued and whether to try to recoup firefighting costs, now estimated at $840,000.

The organization declined to comment. Its website says it operates a botanic garden, conducts educational programs and has a 9,000-square-foot building for offices, celebrations and gatherings.

— Associated Press

Information from Daily Courier, www.thedailycourier.com

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