Explosion-Firefighter Injured (copy)

In this photo provided by Sgt. Jeremy Landers of the Marion County Sheriff’s office, the wreckage of a Barn near St. Paul smolders on Thursday after a fire and explosion destroyed it. Injured firefighter Austin Smith was airlifted to Oregon Health & Science University hospital, where he later died.

Arson investigators on Friday tried to determine the cause of a fire and explosion at a barn in rural Oregon that killed a volunteer firefighter, while the governor ordered flags at state buildings flown at half-staff in his honor.

The scene of the fire that broke out before dawn Thursday and subsequent explosion was considered too unsafe for the investigators to approach until late in the day, said Sgt. Jeremy Landers of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

“When you look at a scene like that, you’re worried about unstable structure. You’re worried about fire hotspots, and also just the unknown of the scene,” Landers said.

The barn was at Champoeg Farm, Landers said. The farm near St. Paul was established in 1856 and specializes in raising turkeys and other poultry. No one at the farm returned phone calls or text messages seeking comment.

The explosion critically injured firefighter Austin Smith, who also was a hop farmer. The 30-year-old was flown by a medical evacuation helicopter to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland, but he did not survive his injuries.

“We in the community are absolutely heartbroken over this loss,” said Bryan Lee, chief of the St. Paul Rural Fire Protection District, where Smith had been a volunteer firefighter since 2015.

On Friday, his fellow firefighters set off in their fire engines and other apparatus to collect Smith’s body from the medical examiner’s office in a Portland suburb and bring him in a procession to a funeral home in nearby Newberg, authorities said.

Smith is survived by his wife and extended family in the St. Paul area.

Mark Daniel, public information officer at the St. Paul Fire District, said the Smith family is “really entrenched in the culture of this community,” with roots dating back to the founding of the signature St. Paul Rodeo.

Sign up for our Daily Headlines newsletter

— George Plaven of Capital Press contributed to this report.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.