Fire investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of the blaze that burned the Whitsell Manufacturing plant in Saginaw, OR, over Memorial Day Weekend.
Investigators did say, however, they have ruled the cause of the fire at the wood mill was accidental.
The fire, which overwhelmed the fire suppression system, ended up driven by wind and fueled by sawdust and wood on site.
South Lane Fire and Rescue worked with Oregon State Fire Marshals Office, Oregon State Police, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on the investigation.
“While the exact cause of the fire remains undetermined and may likely never be known, fire investigators located an area inside the mill where they believe the fire began,” investigators said. “The fire is believed to have spread rapidly due to the facility construction being all wood, wood products present inside the facility, saw dust build up, open doors and prevailing winds at the time of the fire. The fire suppression system on the property was not effective in containing the initial blaze, allowing it to spread.”
Winds out of the northeast fanned the flames through an open door on the north end of the building.
“The fire grew and spread rapidly aided by the winds until enough interior preheating occurred to cause a flashover inside the facility,” fire investigators wrote. “The flashover is believed to have mainly resulted from sawdust particulate within the facility. Once the flashover occurred the remaining areas of the facility were rapidly engulfed in flames from the floor to the ceiling.”
South Lane Fire crews responded the scene May 27 and remained on site cooling the flames and investigating through May 30.
The State of Oregon is working to help the mill owner and the 80 employees displaced by the fire. The mill’s owner has indicated there are plans to rebuild.