LEBANON, Ore. -- Transients trying to stay warm probably lit a fire that destroyed the former Champion Mill building, Lebanon Fire officials said.
Firefighters responded to 3133 Burdell Boulevard around 8:15 p.m. on Monday.
The 51,000-square-foot building began to collapse less than five minutes after crews arrived. While the fire was brought under control in about two hours, crews remained on scene becasue the collapse trapped pockets of fire within the structure that couldn't be reached by hose streams. The fire was contained around the edges and crews let it burn out overnight.
The building was abandoned, but officials said the building’s owners had complained about transients starting small warming fires inside it during the winter.
Lebanon Fire Marshal Jason Bolen said the fire started along the north wall. There was no electricity to the building. Officials have ruled the cause as accidental.
“We may theorize that ‘X’ caused the fire, but if we can’t prove that theory using the scientific method, we can’t say with unquestionable certainty that it was the cause,” Bolen said.
Fire units from Albany, Sweet Home, Scio, and Brownsville assisted.
This is the third fire at the mill. In 2006 a three-story building caught fire due to an unauthorized salvage operation on the upper level. About two weeks later a separate building burned down. The cause of that fire was undetermined.
The mill site was originally home to Evans Plywood, established in 1940. It changed hands multiple times before becoming part of Champion International in 1967. Eventually the plant was sold to RE Services in 2000 and closed permanently in 2004.