CENTRAL POINT — A fire that roared through a hay barn and caused at least $500,000 in damage a day after the Cow Creek Indians took possession of the Rogue River Ranch is both bad luck and good fortune, a tribal spokeswoman said.
"That's life," said Susan Ferris, spokeswoman for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians. "Things happen."
But even more importantly is what didn't happen, Ferris said Wednesday.
"How fortunate that there was no loss of life," Ferris said. "I think there's a great deal for people to be thankful for.
"So it's both bad luck and good luck, don't you think?"
The hay burned in Tuesday evening's fire was included in the tribe's $15 million purchase of the 1,700-acre Rogue River Ranch, located on tribal ancestral land at the base of the Table Rocks. The Cow Creeks took possession of the property Monday morning.
The hay still was smoldering Wednesday and it could burn into Friday, depending on how wet and cold the weather gets, said Fire Marshal John Patterson from Jackson County Fire District No. 3.
"I can see the smoke out my window right now," Patterson said from the district's office at the intersection of Agate and Antelope roads. "There was about 600 tons of hay in there, so it's going to burn for a while. No hazard, just smoke."
Destroyed in the fire also was the 100-by-200-foot barn, a new bale wagon and two tractors stored inside it, Patterson said. He said the damage was estimated at "easily over a half-million dollars" and that the Cow Creeks were insured.
Ranch hands and firefighters will continue to eye the fire as it burns itself out, Patterson said. Actively fighting it now would leave a major mess on the property and likely trigger char-laden runoff into the nearby Rogue River, he said.
"That would be worse than letting it burn," Patterson said.
The investigation so far indicates the barn was the victim of spontaneous combustion associated with stored wet or damp hay, Patterson said.
Damp hay had been stored in the barn for about three weeks, which likely caused it to mold. That would allow microbes to eat at the hay, producing heat that likely roared into flames amid Tuesday's stiff winds.
Ferris said there were no cattle on the ranch when the fire broke out. The former owners had removed their cattle from the working ranch in recent months, and the Cow Creeks in September planned to bring cattle to it, likely from a similar 1,700-acre ranch it owns in Douglas County, she said.
It was unclear whether the stored hay was destined to feed cattle at its other ranch or it was to remain here awaiting the new herd, Ferris said.
The ranch is part of the Cow Creeks' ancestral homeland and the tribe considers it an important historical site during the Rogue Indian Wars, according to Cow Creek officials.
Plans are to use the ranch for cattle grazing as well as raising crops such as alfalfa and soybean.
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 site for a casino.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.