The cause of a fire that destroyed a barn containing several horses and other animals at the Vail Meadow Equestrian Center on Cedar Point Road in the early morning hours of March 21 was likely electrical in nature, Oregon Fire Chief Ed Ellis said on Wednesday evening.
“There’s no official report yet, but the State Fire Marshal’s Office is leaning towards electrical,” said Ellis. “There was electricity in the building. There were warmers in buckets of water to keep it from freezing over so the horses could drink.”
That, he said, may have been the cause of the fire.
“There may have been a `pinch point’ from a cord leading up to one of the buckets, which normally hangs from the walls,” he said. “The extent of damage is so severe that it’s hard to get a handle on it. There was no foul play, so it drops back to an electrical problem.”
Ten horses, along with a pot bellied pig, a goat, and two ducks, perished in the fire at Vail, which provides a therapy horse riding program for those with disabilities. Most of the horses that died were therapy horses.
Paul Mullen, assistant fire chief, said the official cause will likely be “undetermined” because the fire had consumed the barn.
“There was an electrical heater, but it was shut off,” said Mullen, who helped fight the fire. “There were also lighting fixtures. It doesn’t take much for a wire to be shorted out. Whether it was a heating bucket or lighting fixture, we’ll probably never know.”
Mullen called the Agriculture Department on behalf of Vail Meadows so the horses could be buried on site. The graves had to be excavated to a certain depth.
“We try to help anyone who suffers a fire loss, whether they are homes or businesses,” said Ellis. “If there’s anything within our power to help them, we will do that.”
The fire, called in at about 3:30 a.m. by a passing motorist, had completely engulfed the barn by the time firefighters arrived just minutes later.
Ellis said most barn fires are not natural but man made.
“Even in the summer, you don’t get a lot of lightening strikes. Most barns are protected from lightening,” he said.
He noted a similar fire that burned a barn to the ground on Corduroy Road in January 2009 that was caused by a wood burning stove. The fire, fueled by high winds, had started at 12:27 a.m. in the barn, which was owned by Prakash Thombre. He and his family, who lived in a house 30 feet from the barn, were unharmed. Hundreds of livestock, including goats, ducks, chickens, guineas, rabbits and chickens, had perished in the fire.
“Usually, you see fires in barns that are supplied with heat to keep it warm or to keep water from freezing,” said Ellis. “That’s what we look at right away.”
Mullen said barns could be equipped with a sprinkler system to prevent fires, but it’s costly. An alarm system is cheaper.
“Outside of having a sprinkler system or alarm to let you know there is a fire, there’s nothing you can do,” he said.
Vail Meadows has an account set up for donations at First Federal Bank of the Midwest, 3426 Navarre Ave. Also accepting donations on behalf of Vail are most businesses at Great Eastern Shopping Center on Woodville Road. Eagles Landing Golf Course will host a golf scramble on May 18. A 5K fundraiser, Run for the Meadows, is planned for May 25. To register, go to http://www.runforthemeadows.com/
Brown slams council
Former Oregon Mayor Marge Brown told city council at a meeting on March 25 that a spaghetti dinner fundraiser was planned for Vail Meadows on Saturday, March 30, starting at 5 p.m. at Icons Eatery & Entertainment, the former Yeehas Bar & Grill, 3150 Navarre Ave.
She also blasted council for their “lack of response” to the fire.
“It was tragic on Thursday when I got the call and I was out there,” said Brown. “More tragic was the lack of response we got from our council people. I’m not going to defend you. I’m sorry. I was there, they asked where you were. I said I was not there anymore. That’s not my problem.”
Councilman Dennis Walendzak said Brown was short sighted in her comments.
“Former Mayor Brown took a little shot at members of council not knowing what we have done or not have done in regards to Vail Meadows.. She spoke a little out of turn not knowing what some members may have done. I know every member of this council saw that as a tragedy and have reached out to Vail Meadows in other ways. Sometimes it’s better to understand what someone has done before making a backhanded comment like that.”
Mayor Mike Seferian agreed.
“The fire department personnel did address it very seriously. As Chief Ellis will tell you, they were there and did a lot of things on behalf of the city, like they would do in any tragedy,” said Seferian. “We believe we handled people fairly and equally throughout the community, and provided other services so they could bury the horses on site, and facilitated some of the work in being able to carry that out, as well as offering to do other additional things. And that was the personnel most able to help in this situation.”
Sheehy said he found out about the fire later that day.
“I certainly went over there to observe first hand what had happened but the gates were closed. There were things for them to do and they had business to tend to. I think maybe the worst thing to do would have been to stick my nose in there. I, like others on council, felt terrible about it. We all in our own way will do something to help the Vails out. It’s a great charity and great organization and a plus to our community. Hopefully, they will carry on and something greater will grow from he ashes.”
“It’s a very personal thing,” said Seferian, adding that he believed Brown’s comments were mostly aimed at him rather than council.
“And I can take that,” he said.
Seferian defeated Brown in her bid for a third term as mayor in 2008.