Osprey nest in cell tower goes up in flames

A nest in a microwave tower goes up in flames while the two parents fly overhead.  - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
A nest in a microwave tower goes up in flames while the two parents fly overhead.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

An osprey nest perched on top of a 165-foot microwave tower burst into flames Tuesday night, creating an inferno that killed two chicks and completely destroyed the long-standing nest.

As the nest burned, two adult osprey soared overhead, sometimes getting very close to the blaze, then flying away — a display that took place while a dozen Islanders, including a crew from Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR), watched from the ground.

"There's not much we can do," Josh Dueweke, a captain at VIFR, said as he watched. "We have to let it burn, unfortunately."

VIFR's ladder truck was not tall enough to reach the nest, perched at the very top of the tower. Spraying it with a hose wasn't an option either, Dueweke said, as that might have scattered burning embers and further destroyed the nest.

The tower, located at the corner of Vashon Highway and S.W. 204th Street, transports telephone traffic between Vashon and Seattle. The fire did not cause a service disruption, according to Jan Kampbell, a spokeswoman for the Gig Harbor-based CenturyTel.

Kampbell said officials at her company don't know what triggered the blaze, nor have they heard of such instances at other cell towers the company owns.

"They didn't see anything on our end that would have potentially caused the fire to start," she said.

She's heard that pair is already trying to rebuild at the same site. "We won't try to prevent it," she added.

Ed Swan, an Island birder, was driving home from the McMurray Middle School 8th-grade graduation when he saw the blaze and stopped. It was a sad scene, he said.

"There was quite a little bonfire up there," he said.

Swan did some Internet research and found that such fires have occurred in osprey nests elsewhere. "This is the first I've heard of it. But apparently it happens," he said.

The osprey population has grown on Vashon over the years, Swan said, in large part because of the proliferation of cell towers. When he moved to the Island about a decade ago, there were two or three nesting pairs, he said. Now, there are seven or eight, all of them on cell towers.

Swan, too, doesn't know how the fire started. Some have speculated fireworks caused it, but he said he didn't see any sign of fireworks, nor has he heard any yet this summer. He heard that some at VIFR believe the nest might have touched a live wire, triggering the blaze.

If that's the case, he said, he hopes that cell towers will be manufactured and wired in such a way that this couldn't happen again.

"Someone needs to talk to cell tower manufacturers. Maybe a live wire next to where birds nest isn't a good idea," he said.


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