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Huge fire destroys three buildings in Molalla


Flames and smoke from the July 12 fire could be seen for miles.

by: CORY MIMMS - Exploding fuel tanks in this maintenance shop spread the fire quickly to other buildings.Smoldering sparks from a welder’s torch caused the huge fire Friday evening that destroyed the Molalla Redi Mix truck maintenance shop, shed and a nearby vacant house on Molalla Forest Road.

Molalla Fire Chief Vince Stafford said the sparks ignited after employees had left for the day and quickly spread through the workshop, which contained tanks of gasoline, propane and other flammable gases.

At 5:04 p.m. a motorist on Highway 211 called in a report of smoke coming from an area off Molalla Forest Road. Molalla Fire District immediately responded, and by the time the first truck arrived, the shop was engulfed in flames. There were no fire hydrants nearby, Stafford said. 

Flames shooting into the air and billowing black smoke could be seen from miles around. 

“We called for mutual aid from our neighboring districts right away,” he said. “They could see the smoke all the way from Canby as soon as they got underway. Exploding propane tanks  and gasoline cans sent up huge fireballs.”

Molalla Fire District’s 30-year-old fire tender broke down months ago and is past repair, so the department had only one small tender on loan from Canby, and the nearest accessible hydrant was at Safeway, several blocks away.

Molalla Firefighter Denise Everhart said the department was short on crew at 5 p.m. because volunteer firefighters were still driving home from work in places like Oregon City and Portland. by: CORY MIMMS - Firefighters from Molalla, Clackamas County, Gladstone, Canby, Mulino, Colton and other districts fought the fire.Before more help arrived from other districts, firefighters ran out of water three times. 

“I took our second engine with 1,000 gallons of water all by myself because they called in and said ‘We need more water,’ and we didn’t have anyone left to send out,” she said. “It was scary. There’s nothing like driving an engine down the road towards a tower of flames, all alone.

 “We had a second engine come from Mulino with 1,000 gallons, and we were all out of water by the time the first water tender showed up, which was the loaner form Canby with 2,000 gallons,” she said. “By the time we got that tender there, the water tanks on my engine and the other engine were already empty.”

“Having no water tender caused a problem because it was such a large fire,” Stafford said. “Canby, Clackamas County and Monitor brought tenders, and we had the little borrowed tender from Canby,” he said. “We put more than 50,000 gallons of water on that fire, so without a fire hydrant, it took a lot of flow from tenders. The closest hydrant on that road was more than a thousand feet away and not accessible to fire engines. So we drove to the Safeway area to refill the tenders at the hydrant there. We had to keep sending tenders back and forth to refill.”

Everhart said within about 20 minutes after the first response, units from Canby, Clackamas County, Monitor and Colton fire districts began arriving. Ultimately, 23 Molalla firefighters and, 23 mutual aid firefighters fought the blaze.

by: DENISE EVERHART - A Molalla firefighter saves equipment near the blaze that raged out of control when firefighters ran out of water.  With no accessible hydrant, they had to drive down the highway to a Safeway shopping center to refill trucks at a hydrant there.The explosions and high winds spread the fire quickly through dry grass to other buildings, but Stafford said the priority was to try to save the company’s buildings and equipment. 

“The fire spread to the house next door and we didn’t have the water,” he said. “They wanted to save the business — that was the biggest concern. As help arrived, we put firefighters between the buildings with hoses to keep it from spreading. We brought in the Clackamas County Fire District  aerial truck so we could put water onto the shop and house from above. Gladstone also brought a ladder truck, as did Canby and Colton.”

The Clackamas County battalion chief also set up portable water supply at the scene that holds 4,000 gallons of water.

The buildings and the rental house were a total loss, but firefighters were able to save the Redi Mix office building and a neighboring home in which a family is living.

“Everybody worked real hard to keep it from spreading,” Stafford said. “We saved the company’s  equipment that was parked nearby, so the business can continue.”

Molalla Redi Mix owner and president Mitch Jorgensen said the fire was devastating to the company. “It’s very significant. We’re going to have a heck of a time now trying to maintain our trucks,” he told reporters. “And I mean all of our supplies were in there. The oils to maintain the fleet. It’s all gone. Our mechanic lost all his tools.”

Jorgensen said the company will still continue operations. He estimated a loss of about $375,000. “It’s a tragedy, but it’s also one of those bumps in the road,” he said. “Gotta pick up and try to move on.”


“The big thing is, if you go back five years, we had two tenders, 3,000 gallon and one with 1,800 gallons,” Everhart said. “Right now Canby is loaning us a water tender, but they can’t do that indefinitely. It limits their ability to respond and our ability to respond. If we had one tender, then Canby could have had two to respond. This has far reaching consequences.”

The broken down Molalla water tender was no longer compliant with standards, she said. The floor boards rusted out and the drive train was ready to go.  “It was a 30-year-old vehicle, and the mechanics told us it was not worth fixing,” she said. “It had mechanical problems and was not road-worthy.” 

The Molalla firefighters are asking local businesses to help purchase a tender with donations. “We’d put a logo on the side of the vehicle — we don’t have any pride,” Everhart said. “We are being proactive and innovative, but having trouble raising money for the water tender.” 

Chief Stafford said they’d go out for a loan if the fire district could afford the payments. He is, in fact, looking into taking out a loan to purchase a new fire tender. The basic, bare-bones cost for the vehicle would come to about $220,000. 

In the past few months, Everhart said, the district has gone after funding from a number of sources.

 “We have tried for every grant we can try to get,” Everhart said. “We’ve tried and tried again and we are still looking for every possible option.”