Fire levels barn on tribal land

Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians had just completed purchase of the Rogue River Ranch at base of the Table Rocks Friday
Jackson County Fire District No. 3 firefighters work to knock down a blaze that consumed a 20,000-square-foot barn at the Rogue River Ranch off Table Rock Road in Central Point Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

CENTRAL POINT — Less than a week after purchasing the Rogue River Ranch at the base of the Table Rocks, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians may be in the market for a new barn.

Fire engines rushed to the 1,700-acre property just after 5 p.m. Tuesday as a large column of smoke climbed high above Table Rock Road. Jackson County Fire District No. 3 crews arrived in time to watch a roaring fire chew away a 100-foot-by-200-foot barn that was loaded to the rafters with hay.

"I was on the scene within minutes and the structure was already well on its way to the ground," said John Patterson, District 3 fire marshal.

The blaze was contained to the barn, but it could easily have spread to nearby grassland, Patterson said.

"The rain really helped us out today," he said. "It helped keep the fire from the grass and other structures."

Patterson determined the cause of the fire to be "spontaneous combustion."

Damp hay had been stored in the barn for about three weeks, which caused it to mold, Patterson said.

"When this happens, microbes begin eating the hay and heat is produced," he said.

The heat pulsed inside the bales until Tuesday's strong winds rushed into the barn, Patterson said.

"When the wind came in, it was all that was needed to get it going," Patterson said. "That fresh air forced its way deep inside those haystacks. Something like this is just begging for fresh air to ignite."

It's never a good idea to put up fresh, wet hay, Patterson said.

"Ranchers have been dealing with this for years," he said.

The flames quickly engulfed the bales and then moved to tractors and other farm equipment stored inside, Patterson said.

The metal roof fell to the ground less than an hour after the blaze sparked.

Patterson said fire crews were most likely going to let the fire burn itself out rather than dump thousands of gallons of water on it.

"It's going to burn through the night no matter how much water we put on it right now," Patterson said. "We are going to monitor it closely all night."

The Cow Creek tribe made the purchase of the ranch official on Friday, according to a statement by tribe Chairman Dan Courtney.

"This land, part of the Cow Creeks ancestral homeland and an important historical site during the Rogue Indian Wars, will be used for cattle grazing as well as raising crops such as alfalfa and soybean," Courtney wrote in the statement released to the Mail Tribune.

The Cow Creek tribe owns the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville, as well as about 2,000 farm acres in Douglas County, a truck stop, RV parks and other holdings.

The tribe has said the ranch will not be used as a future site for a casino.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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