ONTARIO — Members of Ontario Fire Department have been busy fighting major fires this week, including an apartment building on top of a food market on Monday in which 15 to 30 or more people were displaced and a huge barn on Tuesday in which four horses died. Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton caught up with the newspaper this morning to provide details during a phone interview.
Police help with evacuations in apartment fire
Crews were dispatched at about 2:30 a.m. on Monday to 106 S.E. Second Street, which is the address of Guerrero’s Market. The market is on the corner of Southeast First Avenue. When they arrived, there was heavy smoke coming out of the upstairs window and fire broke through the roof a short time later.
Tenants already were being evacuated, so fire crews were able to start attacking the blaze without doing that first. Leighton credited four local police officers for helping people get out of the building and down the fire escape, having gone into the upstairs and hallway to try to make sure everyone was out.
“They did amazing jobs,” he said.
There appeared to be a lack of working fire alarms or smoke detectors, according to the chief.
“There is a system and someone had pulled it, but my guys did not see or hear it, and there were no signs of smoke detectors anywhere,” Leighton said.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated by the Oregon State Fire Marshal and Oregon State Police, with interviews of occupants still being wrapped up and an answer hoped for by the end of the week.
Those who did talk to first responders told them that they heard “a big loud explosion like noise and then people started yelling and saying get out and knocking on each other’s doors,” according to Leighton. According to statements given that day, it was explained that one man tried to go into a communal bathroom where the main fire was and use a fire extinguisher to put it out. However, it was burning into a locked closet area he couldn’t access.
While battling the blaze, Ontario Fire Department was able to deploy its drone early on. The chief said this helped to direct ladder trucks from Vale and Weiser to the hot spots on the roof.
“It helped tremendously with the fire attack,” he said. “It worked amazingly and was very beneficial.”
Also providing mutual aid, were fire departments from Fruitland and New Plymouth. In addition Treasure Valley Paramedics and Red Cross were on scene to help those who had been displaced.
While he didn’t hear about injuries that night, Leighton said since the fire he has heard from someone in Red Cross that one victims may have a broken arm. The Red Cross made arrangements with the Super 8 motel to house those displaced. Leighton said they ultimately gave the individuals a credit card pre-loaded with $500 to either stay in those rooms, or make arrangements for somewhere else. Members of Origins Faith Community Outreach Initiative and Community in Action are uniting to find other help for individuals. Due to that, the fire department’s Burn Out Fund has not been used in this case. The chief explained that it typically is reserved for people who suffer significant losses, such as the entire home they owned and all their belongings.
Leighton said there were a total of 14 rooms upstairs and one apartment and the grocery store downstairs. He didn’t know of the exact number displaced, but said some rooms reportedly had more than one person in them. Furthermore, he said it was rumored people also were sleeping in areas that weren’t actually rooms. That was one he could substantiate, he said, as he saw a mattress in a little area of the hall near the fire escape.
While the upper half of the building is a total loss, the bottom half had more water damage than that from smoke or fire. Leighton reported “quite a few places where the ceiling fell in from the water.”
The owner has been contacted and told they have to board up the rest of the business until an insurance agent determines the next steps, including tear down and potential rebuild. However, Leighton said, due to fire and building codes, it may be a total loss; if more than 50% of it is considered damage, they will not be able to remodel.
Barn fire was ‘really sad’
Early the following day, crews were dispatched to a barn fire on Plum Lane or Quarter Horse Lane. The structure was 200-feet long and 120-foot wide that was big enough to house a riding arena and much more, including four horses, which all perished in the fire.
“This one was really sad to me because animals died in it … and to see the anguish in that family … to view that trauma and see their animals burned — that was hard for me,” Leighton said.
He said the barn already had a big collapse due to historic snow loads seen in the winter of 2016-17 and had been rebuilt after that. To have this follow, “was a big loss,” he said. In addition to the animals, there was “at least $100,000 worth of tack because it was a riding arena, and they did English style riding, so there were fancy saddles and nice old buggies for the horses, according to the chief. Additionally there was hay in the barn, some tractors and a side by side utility vehicle.
When crews arrived the barn was fully involved, with flames visible, and they prioritized keeping it away from a shop about 20-feet away and the house. Some big horse trailers that were parked nearby were also damaged.
Mutual aid helped on this one, too, with most providing tenders to help with running water. The nearest water supplies from there were the prison and Fry Foods, according to the chief, who said they used the prison due to the water source near Fry Foods being “really yucky.”
Tenders then keep helping refill a big tank like a portable swimming pool that holds a couple-thousand gallons of water. The liquid is drafted from there with a hose to the first fire engine, which supplies pressure to other fire hoses.
The cause of that fire is still being determined, but Leighton said that he is “90% sure it is electrical,” noting that it appeared to have started around an electrical panel.