POULSBO — An osprey nest and an electrical malfunction ignited the cell phone tower fire that closed down State Route 305 for 12 hours Monday in the Lemolo area. Kitsap County Deputy Fire Marshal Tina Turner said an electrical malfunction at a lighted beacon on top of the 150-foot tower caught the bird’s nest on fire before 4 a.m. Monday. Turner said the birds likely damaged the beacon or its 110-volt power wire while building their nest, contributing to the fire.
The fire spread from the top of the tower down through its hollow interior, burning through electrical cable insulation, Poulsbo Fire Battalion Chief Bruce Peterson said. The tower was glowing red nearly to its base when fire crews arrived. Firefighters allowed the fire to burn out on its own.
The tower leaned precariously, raising concern it could fall across the highway. The state Department of Transportation closed both lanes of SR 305 and detoured traffic through Lemolo. Verizon, which operates the tower jointly with AT&T, dispatched a crane company to dismantle the tower. The crane lowered the tower to the ground at about 4 p.m. and the highway was reopened.
The ospreys remained in the area for the remainder of the day, circling their former nest site. One bird was missing a large section of feathers on its right wing, apparently burned away during the fire. Witnesses said the ospreys began bringing new sticks to the tower shortly after the fire subsided.
Damage to the ospreys’ wings may appear dramatic, but the outlook for the birds is good, said Mike Pratt, wildlife services director at West Sound Wildlife Shelter.
“If that bird was in my rehab, I’d say there’s no way I’d release it,” Pratt said, after inspecting the Herald photo above. “But, it’s flying.”
Since the birds are flying, they can hunt and feed themselves, Pratt said. And since summer is molting season — when birds lose and re-grow their feathers — the missing wing feathers should grow back in coming months.
Pratt said the nesting pair likely lost a clutch of young in the fire. They should be able to lay a second batch of eggs this season if they can find another nesting site.
Osprey nests on cell phone towers are an increasingly common site in Kitsap County. The towers provide the height and clear views the raptors favor for nest sites.
Ospreys are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state law. State Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jeff Skriletz told the Herald in April that companies can modify the nests outside of the nesting season, which lasts through September, but modifications require state approval and careful oversight. In some cases the state has allowed property owners to remove a nest while building an alternative nesting platform nearby.
“It’s getting to be a real issue,” Skriletz said of ospreys nesting on cell towers. “We still need to work out a statewide approach to it.”