Fire Destroys OR Plant

JEFFERSON - The Columbia Spas building on Talbot Road, a local landmark that once housed a woolen mill, was destroyed during an inferno early Thursday morning.

Flames shot 100 feet in the air, estimated Jefferson volunteer Lt. Scott Decker, the incident commander.

The blaze was called in at 12:19 a.m., and when fire crews arrived, the 25,000- square-foot structure was completely engulfed. Multiple explosions also occurred within the building.

With the dangerous situation and no hydrants in the area, firefighters simply tried to contain the flames.

Residents of the nearby Oakdale Mobile Home Park were evacuated because the fire and smoke were endangering their homes and adjacent power poles.

Dan Dehut said a neighbor beat on his trailer to wake him. When he opened the front door, he was stunned.

"It was all just a great big wall of flame," Dehut said. "You could feel the intense heat."

The orange-tinted scene immediately reminded him of the napalm drop from the film "Apocalypse Now."

The fire was brought under control at about 2:32 a.m., but at 10 a.m. Thursday, wreckage still was smoldering.

Columbia Spas has six full-time workers, and owner Dave Burton said the plan is to reopen at some point.

"It's a devastating loss for us," he said.

The building, however, was insured.

Burton said Columbia spas moved to the site in 2005. Residents said the mill had been closed and the site vacant for years beforehand.

The Marion and Polk County interagency fire investigation team was looking into the cause of the blaze Thursday. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will be assisting.

Jefferson Fire Chief Jon Zeilman said Thursday morning that there was no reason to believe the cause of the fire was suspicious.

It was a difficult fire to handle, however, because of the sheer size of the building and that no hydrants were in the area, which limited the water supply, Zeilman said.

Zeilman said he thought the explosions might have been from propane tanks inside the facility. "It was hard to tell," he added.

Crews from Albany, Aumsville, Scio, Stayton, Sublimity, Turner and Marion County Fire District No. 1 all were dispatched to assist. Decker estimated there were 50 firefighters who battled the blaze.

Residents who were evacuated were directed to Jefferson High School, a local emergency shelter site. The American Red Cross assisted 20 to 25 people there, but others went elsewhere, such as to relatives' houses, said Maria Salazar, executive director of the Willamette Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Those residents were able to return to their homes after 8:30 a.m., Salazar said.

Because of the fire, which closed Talbot Road, Jefferson schools started two hours late, said Superintendent Kent Klewitz.

"We have a number of families who live on Talbot Road who were affected by the closure," Klewitz said.

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