Fire destroys radiator shop building

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

A two-alarm fire destroyed the building housing Sweet Home Radiator and Muffler Service Thursday morning, Sept. 20.

The fire started when the door of a wood stove was left open, according to Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District Chief Mike Beaver. He said owner Ron Forsythe and an employee had started a fire in the stove, then left to get some breakfast.

When the alarm was sounded, at 9:46 a.m., Beaver said, the fire was burning strongly, having vented through the roof “before we even got there.”

“I’m standing at the station and I could see a 150-foot black column of smoke already,” he said.

Ross Bailey, a local resident who was eating breakfast at McDonald’s, directly across the street, when the fire broke out, said he noticed a plume of black smoke at about 9:25 a.m. when he arrived at the restaurant.

“I saw smoke coming up the east side of the building and I thought the guy was burning something in a barrel,” he said. “I thought it looked like a petroleum product. I didn’t think about it (again) until I heard the sirens.”

Beaver said he decided to “upgrade to a two-alarm blaze within a minute of being there.”

The building included a mezzanine loft that held “thousands” of pounds of items, he said.

“I just decided nobody was going inside that building,” Beaver said. “When I rolled up I made the decision we were going to fight the fire defensively.”

A total of 33 firefighters and six engines, plus two aerial trucks, including Sweet Home’s new truck and one from Lebanon, responded to the blaze.

“It’s a great rig,” he said of SHFAD’s new 150-foot ladder truck, which was used to spray water into the building from above. It was the first time the truck has been used in Sweet Home, other than for training purposes. The aerial was first used at a fire at the Flakeboard plant in Millersburg on Sept. 13.

One problem occurred when a fire hydrant approximately 100 feet to the east of the burning building failed as the Lebanon truck’s crew tried to set up a second aerial stream.

Police urged bystanders to stay back as there were reportedly tanks of acetylene in the building. No major explosions occurred, though small “pops” could be heard soon after firefighters arrived.

The fire was pronounced out and firefighers were released at 11:10 a.m.

Beaver said the early damage estimate was $250,000 for the building, which he said was a total loss. He said Forsythe thought some of the tools and equipment inside might be salvageable.

Seven city Public Works Department staffers handled traffic control as vehicles were diverted onto Long Street at 22nd Avenue and 18th Avenue.

“When I heard the fire was there on the highway, I knew for sure we would need traffic control,” Maintenance Superintendent Pat Wood said.

Wood said that officials from agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality have visited the site and determined that water runoff and other issues were under control.

“The report was that multiple barrels of oil had ruptured,” Wood said. “We’ve found, so far, that the barrels were relatively intact. It was not near as bad as we were sure it was going to be at the time.”

He said water runoff from the firefighting effort drained into the sewer rather than city storm drains, so there was no problem with river pollution.

“At this point in time the city has a clean bill of health,” he said. “We took care of this just like we should have.”

Woods said his staff has not had a chance to look into the hydrant failure, but he said it may have been due to someone backing into it, causing the flange to break.

“We certainly had water coming out of that hydrant in the last year,” he said, noting that his crew flushes each of the city’s approximately 300 hydrants once annually.

Beaver said the hydrant failure didn’t really slow firefighters down much.

“We had two other really good hydrants,” he said.