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Forest Groves famous fires bring back memories

Fire marshal narrates a dozen big blazes as department turns 120

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF FOREST GROVE FIRE & RESCUE - A man unsuccessfully tries to save the church bell at First Christian Church during a 1948 fire.Over the 120 years the Forest Grove Fire Department — later re-christened Forest Grove Fire & Rescue — has been in operation, there have been lots of memorable fires to put out.

Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer dug through the FGF&R archives to come up with a comprehensive list of “famous fires” firefighters have battled. He details many below.

“We had tons of big fires ... house fires, apartment fires and large barns that burned down,” said Nemeyer. “But these are the ones I have heard the most about.”

n 1919 (probably January): Fire destroys nearly two blocks around modern-day 21st Avenue and Main Street. Leveled by the blaze were the United Church of Christ, the city library and a block of businesses on the north side of 21st Avenue. 

n 1933: The Tillamook Burn fire initially starts in Gales Creek Canyon at the Lyda Brothers Logging site. Rumor persists that a second fire was intentionally set to the north of this in the days after the initial fire. The thought is that an arsonist was looking to create jobs fighting fires during the time of economic depression.

n 1948 (we think): Fire hits First Christian Church, located at modern-day 19th Avenue and Cedar Street. Someone tries to recover the bell from the bell tower of the 1800s-era building. 

n 1949 (we believe): A fire destroys a number of buildings at the Carnation Lumber Mill.

n June 18, 1970: Lincoln Junior High School burns down. This was at modern-day Main Street and University Avenue, where a dorm building now sits. There were lots of rumors that this one was an arson, and that there was some change of ownership with the building either immediately before or after where the school district and Pacific University were involved, but I don’t have the official cause on record. This was the first of three big fires on campus in the 1970s. The others were Jan. 2, 1973 at Herrick Hall that totally destroyed the building. Finally, on March 27, 1975, historic Marsh Hall was gutted by a fire. Marsh was the only building of the three that was rebuilt, and still stands.

n Dec. 3, 1975: Copeland Lumber on Main Street goes up in flames. Volunteer firefighter Dave Ford fell more than 40 feet from a ladder truck after the operator of the truck struck a live power line.

n July 1982: Oily rags used to refinish wooden musical instruments in Floyd’s Music Shop on Pacific Avenue spontaneously combust and end up leveling the buildings that were between modern-day Frye’s Action Athletics and WSC Insurance. Floyd’s was destroyed, as was a café, a shoe store and a barber shop.   

n Circa 1984: CC Ruth in Cornelius burns.

n 1987: A fire at Oregon Hazelnuts on Hillside Road destroys a large nut processing building.

n Circa 1989: Valley Warehouse on 23rd Avenue near Cedar Street burns. I watched this one as a kid from the backyard of my house on 26th Avenue and it was a huge fire. I don’t recall hearing the cause of it ... [there were] lots of rumors about that and Chief Bob Davis had the site bulldozed to get the fire extinguished, which really frustrated the state fire marshal [because he] was going to work on what caused it. The call came in as a fire alarm and not a real fire, and one of our crews pulled up on the one side and couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The other crew came up the opposite side of the giant warehouse complex and the thing was really burning like crazy on their side. There were big cans of cherries and other fruit exploding and launching into the air all night and the red food coloring used in the cherries actually dyed the fire hoses afterward. 

n Circa 1992: A blaze at Compass Electronics on 24th Avenue guts the building, but it remains standing.

n November 2011: Primetime Sports Bar & Restaurant burns to the ground on the day before Thanksgiving.

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