Blaze destroys Forest Service building

Chuck Anderson/East Oregonian Publishing Group Firefighters aim hose lines as flames destroy the U.S. Forest Service Building in Enterprise, Ore., on July 11. Investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the fire.

Suspicious circumstances surround fire that began Sunday night

By CHUCK ANDERSON

East Oregonian Publishing Group

ENTERPRISE, Ore. -- The site of district headquarters of the U.S. Forest Service in Enterprise has been declared a crime scene following a spectacular, fast-growing fire that destroyed the two-story log building.

Investigators from the state fire marshal's office arrived to join a probe that was expected to include agents from the FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives plus Oregon State Police arson investigators, said Rich Hoover, spokesman for the fire marshal.

"It was devastating," said Mary DeAguero, district ranger for the Eagle Cap Ranger District, whose office was in the building.

Also burned were offices of the Wallowa Valley Ranger District, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, the Farmers Service Agency, National Resource Conservation Service and Wallowa Soil and Water Conservation District and the Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center.

The leased 20-year-old building was destroyed, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Judy Wing. Damage to the building and contents likely will exceed $5 million.

No one was in the building when the fire broke out after 4 p.m. Sunday, July 11, she said.

Wing and Hoover said the multi-agency probe was standard procedure when a federal agency is the victim of a "high-profile fire."

The building was undergoing "oiling" of the logs, a process that protects them much like paint on a house. Different products, some of which are flammable, can be used for oiling, experts say, but heat isn't part of the process.

The fire spread unusually fast, witnesses said. Motorists on Highway 82 said they had not noticed flames or smoke shortly before the first 911 calls, and arriving firefighters then found "flames shooting through the roof," one said.

One witness said the fire appeared to have been burning on the exterior for some time before it went to the interior, where a fire alarm sounded.

In a standard fire investigation, an attempt first is made to determine the point of origin. Next, all possible causes are considered, then eliminated one at a time until a single cause remains.

The visitor center was closed Sunday and no one was working in the building, Wing said.

USFS spokeswoman Joanie Bosworth said the service had just negotiated a two-year extension of its lease.

"We will now focus on how to get office functions and public services back to normal," Wing quoted Steve Ellis, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest supervisor, as saying.

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