Fire tears through shop southeast of Ridgefield (with video)

Explosions heard as ammunition, propane, cars catch on fire

By Craig Brown and Patty Hastings

Published:

Updated: September 23, 2013, 7:05 PM

 

Fire ripped through a large pole barn Monday afternoon in the Duluth area southeast of Ridgefield. As firefighters doused the blaze, witnesses could hear the pop-pop of firearm ammunition going off, the crackle of wooden tresses burning and the occasional boom of a propane tank exploding.

The L-shaped shop contained cars and other machinery, along with guns, ammunition and propane, said Clark County Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Dawdy.

“It’s just an amazingly wide variety of fuels,” he said. “Everything you could possibly imagine.”

About 35 firefighters from Clark County Fire & Rescue, Fire District 6, Fire District 3 and Vancouver Fire Department helped battle the blaze, first reported around 1:40 p.m. at 2508 N.E. 199th St. With no hydrants near the property, water had to be brought in with a water tender that regularly filled up using a hydrant at Northeast 199th Street and Northeast 10th Avenue.

The crew focused on preventing the fire from spreading to nearby structures and attacked the fire from outside. Fuel was on the floor of the barn, a wooden shop building covered in metal sheeting. The roof collapsed in several places, Dawdy said. Clark County Public Works brought in an excavator to lift up debris, allowing firefighters to continue dousing the stubborn blaze.

Dawn Smith, 44, and her son, Mitchell, 15, were the first to report the fire. They saw smoke coming from the roof of the shop as they were driving south on Northeast 29th Avenue, heading home from a friend’s house.

Mitchell called in the fire and they pulled into the driveway next door. Within three minutes of calling 911, Dawn said the shop was engulfed in flames.

“At least no one was inside, thank God,” said Dawn, a nurse.

After finding the homeowner, the two watched as several restored classic cars went up in flames, along with additional cars still being worked on. They heard rapid popping noises as flames reach a gun safe containing ammunition.

“It sounds like gunfire but quieter,” Mitchell said.

When bullets are on fire, they rupture and fire at a slower speed, Dawdy said.

The fire was under control about an hour after firefighters arrived. Overhaul took several more hours due to the sheer amount of materials. The pole barn and its contents were considered a total loss, Dawdy said. The Clark County Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the fire.

County property records indicate the property is owned by Thomas and Gina Conway.

Dawdy reminds homeowners to keep a smoke detector in their garages, shops and barns, along with their homes.

“Now’s that time of year to change the battery,” he said.

See a video of the fire on The Columbian's YouTube channel.