By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Fire ravages Lower City Park shelter

McMinnville police officer Justin James notified the Yamhill Communications Agency dispatch center about 12:35 a.m. that the structure was ablaze. Capt. Matt Scales said McMinnville firefighters responded and quickly extinguished the flames.

The Yamhill County Fire Investigation Team was convened to sift through the evidence, according to Fire Division Chief Debbie McDermott.

“The fire most likely started in a plastic trash can in the northeast corner of the structure,” she said. “We can’t prove if it was intentionally set, or if something was discarded into the can.

“We did find cigarettes in and around the area, and there’s evidence of recent fireworks being lit. It was human-caused, but whether it was intentional or accidental, we can’t determine.”

McDermott said flames shot up the side of the shelter from the garbage can and engulfed the interior. It’s a total loss, she said.

The wooden shelter measured 20-feet by 40-feet with a metal roof, according to Public Works Superintendent David Renshaw. It featured stainless steel counters, electrical outlets and four sinks, he said, but no stove.

Parks and Recreation Director Jay Pearson joined the city staff 36 years ago, and he said the shelter was there when he arrived. He said it had recently undergone an upgrade, using funds from a bond issue.

“We made an investment in the building with new sinks and new wiring,” he said. “It had begun to deteriorate. It’s in the flood plain, so it can take a beating.”

Unfortunately, it’s been targeted many times by vandals as well.

“It’s been a part of vandalism that occurs at the park,” he said.

Pearson said it was heartbreaking to learn the shelter had burned. He termed the incident a big loss for local residents.

“The citizens of McMinnville have been fantastic in their support of the parks,” he said. “They have invested a lot in their parks.

“A survey that we did showed 90 percent of our residents have visited a park. People love and use our parks. This is so unfortunate.”

He said no decision has been made regarding rebuilding. He said the city would be exploring various options.

In the meantime, the remains have been taped off.

“We have to consider the flood impact on that structure and the vandalism that has occurred there during the last five or six years,” he said. “We might just make the site safe and then let it sit for a few years. I think we have to consider whether it’s worth it to invest in a like shelter.”

The fire cut power to the park’s lighting system. Renshaw said it wasn’t restored until Thursday morning.

The shelter supplied power to an Upper City Park restroom, and it may remain without power for some time. A chemical toilet has been brought in for now.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact James at 503-434-7307.

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