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Cause of Sweet Oregon Grill fire probably will never be determined

Investigators say hot, fast blaze prevents them from reaching a conclusion
by: Jaime Valdez, Hillsboro firefighters kept watch in the afternoon July 7 to make certain the Sweet Oregon Grill fire didn't reignite.

Hillsboro Fire Department investigators have been unable to determine the cause of a July 7 fire that destroyed the popular Sweet Oregon Grill on Northwest Cornelius Pass Road.

Connie King, fire department spokeswoman, said the official determination is that the fire's cause was 'undetermined.'

'Because the fire was so hot and so complete, the investigators have been unable to determine where it started,' King said.

Investigators ruled out, however, arson in the case, she said. It also probably did not start in the restaurant's kitchen, King said.

Hillsboro firefighters were called at about 4:14 a.m. last Friday to the restaurant, 6393 N.W. Cornelius Pass Road, by a passerby and a Washington County sheriff's deputy who spotted the fire.

By the time firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the building's roof. A second alarm was called at 4:24 a.m. A third alarm was called at 4:54 a.m.

About 60 firefighters with 15 pieces of equipment from Hillsboro, Washington County Fire District No. 2, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Cornelius Fire Department, Forest Grove Fire Department and Banks Fire Department were involved in fighting the blaze.

The restaurant has two dining rooms connected by a breezeway. One of the buildings was constructed in 1902 by farmer Abraham Zahler. Both buildings were ablaze when firefighters arrived.

Because the wood frame structure with metal roof burned so hot and rapidly, firefighters tried to control it from the outside.

The roof of the east dining room collapsed at about 4:50 a.m. The fire was controlled prior to 5:45 a.m. At about 8 a.m., one firefighter sustained a minor back sprain while removing the pitched roof. He was taken to a local hospital for evaluation and released by 11 a.m.

Two-thirds of the entire structure was destroyed by the blaze.

The building's owners, Jerry Wilson and his daughter, Connie Wilson, said the restaurant would be closed indefinitely. The building wasn't insured.