Former Lebanon Champion Mill Building Destroyed By Fire

Lebanon Fire District - 02/27/19

A two-alarm fire on Monday night destroyed an abandoned building at the former Champion Mill site at 3133 Burdell Boulevard, Lebanon. The fire was initially reported to Linn County dispatchers at 8:13 pm as a house fire on Porter Street, but fire units quickly realized this was not the case and upgraded to a second alarm prior to arriving on scene. The second alarm brought additional fire units from Albany, Sweet Home, Scio, and Brownsville to fight the fire and cover Lebanon’s response area during the incident.

The first arriving LFD Battalion Chief reported a large mill building with heavy fire involvement on the north end. The structure was approximately 51,000 square feet in size, and firefighter efforts were hampered by both snowy conditions and a limited water supply. The incident commander initiated a defensive operational mode of protecting a nearby exposure structure while attacking the fire from the exterior of the building.  The Incident Commander split the fire into two divisions, each with a commanding chief officer, and those divisions worked independently to combat the fire. The building began to collapse less than 5 minutes after fire crews arrived and continued to collapse over the next 30 minutes until it was completely on the ground. Aerial ladders from Lebanon and Sweet Home were used to direct elevated water streams deep into the structural remains, and large truck-mounted master streams were used to extinguish the fire from the outer edges in. 

The fire was brought under control in approximately 2 hours, and crews remained on scene until nearly midnight. A large amount of metal siding from the exterior walls collapsed on top of the fire, trapping pockets of fire deep within the structure which were unable to be reached with hose streams. The fire was contained around the edges and allowed to burn out overnight.

Fire investigators returned on Tuesday morning to survey the damage and attempt to determine origin and cause. “Based on initial observations early on in the incident we’re confident that the area of origin was along the north wall of the structure.” said Lebanon Fire Marshal Jason Bolen. “The building was vacant, except for some random storage items, and there was no electricity to the building. With no identifiable heat source located within the building we are listing the cause as accidental with the most probable possible cause being a warming fire which got out of control.” Bolen said building owners have long complained about transients entering the structure and starting small warming fires during the winter months. With the building being completely demolished by fire, it is impossible for fire investigators to determined if there were any signs of forcible entry, or to observe burn patterns and other fire indicators. “It’s disappointing for us as investigators when we can’t determine a specific cause, but it’s important for us to remember that we are truth-seekers, not case-makers. 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.” The Fire District has since turned the investigation over to the Lebanon Police Department.

There has been a significant fire history at the site, including another building which burned down on October 6, 2006 with an undetermined cause. That incident followed a multi-alarm fire at a 3-story mill structure on September 21, 2006. The cause of that fire was determined to be hot work on the upper level of the structure as part of an unauthorized salvage operation. 

The mill site was originally home to Evans Plywood, established in 1940. By the early 1950s, the plant was owned by Cascade Plywood and made a brand of plywood called Weldwood. In 1952, Cascade Plywood opened a new hardboard plant on the site and began producing a composite board called Lebanite, which was named after the town. Both facilities were purchased by U.S. Plywood in 1962, and  became part of Champion International in 1967. The plywood plant closed in 1985 and the Lebanite hardboard plant was sold to Georgia-Pacific in 1987. That plant was sold to RE Services in January 2000 and renamed the Lebanite Corporation which shut down again, this time permanently, in April 2004.

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