Officials: Cause of fire that destroyed former Champion Mill building unknown

A two-alarm fire on Feb. 25 destroyed an abandoned building at the former Champion Mill site at 3133 Burdell Boulevard. The fire was initially reported to Linn County dispatchers at 8:13 p.m.

Additional fire units from Albany, Sweet Home, Scio and Brownsville arrived to fight the fire and cover Lebanon’s response area during the incident.

According to a Lebanon Fire District Statement, the first arriving LFD Battalion Chief reported a large mill building with heavy fire involvement on the north end. The structure was approximately 51,000 square feet in size, and firefighter efforts were hampered by both snowy conditions and a limited water supply.

The building began to collapse less than five minutes after fire crews arrived, and continued to collapse over the next 30 minutes until it was completely on the ground. The fire was brought under control in approximately two hours, and crews remained on scene until nearly midnight, according to the statement.

Fire investigators returned the following morning to survey the damage and attempt to determine origin and cause.

“Based on initial observations early on in the incident, we’re confident that the area of origin was along the north wall of the structure,” said Jason Bolen, Lebanon fire marshal.

“The building was vacant, except for some random storage items, and there was no electricity to the building. With no identifiable heat source located within the building we are listing the cause as accidental with the most probable possible cause being a warming fire which got out of control.”

Bolen said building owners have long complained about transients entering the structure and starting small warming fires during the winter months.

With the building being completely demolished by fire, it is impossible for fire investigators to determined if there were any signs of forcible entry, or to observe burn patterns and other fire indicators, he said.

The Fire District has since turned the investigation over to the Lebanon Police Department.

There has been a significant fire history at the site, including another building which burned down on Oct. 6, 2006 with an undetermined cause.

That incident followed a multi-alarm fire at a three-story mill structure on Sept. 21, 2006. The cause of that fire was determined to be hot work on the upper level of the structure as part of an unauthorized salvage operation.

The mill site was originally home to Evans Plywood, established in 1940. By the early 1950s, the plant was owned by Cascade Plywood and made a brand of plywood called Weldwood. In 1952, Cascade Plywood opened a new hardboard plant on the site and began producing a composite board called Lebanite, which was named after the town.

Both facilities were purchased by U.S. Plywood in 1962, and became part of Champion International in 1967. The plywood plant closed in 1985 and the Lebanite hardboard plant was sold to Georgia-Pacific in 1987.

That plant was sold to RE Services in January 2000 and renamed the Lebanite Corporation which shut down again, this time permanently, in April 2004.