We begin the fourth and final part of our look at Canby’s fire history on Sept. 16, 1960. Firefighters responded to an early morning fire that day at Dr. A.G. MacDonald’s dental office at 121 N. Grant Street in downtown Canby.
Dr. MacDonald lived in an apartment above the clinic, and that’s where the fire actually began. The blaze spread quickly destroying his bed, furniture, most of his personal effects and all of his clothing. Fortunately, the dentist lived in a time where there was such a thing as “bedclothes,” and he was wearing them.
Also fortunate: none of his dental equipment was damaged by the fire. So, for some of our older listeners, if you were wondering why your dentist showed up for your appointment wearing his pajamas that one time, hopefully this explains things.
What Was That Boom?
One morning, there was a loud boom that was heard all over Canby. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, yeah! I heard it, too!” But no. This was back on Sept. 3, 1982. And this actually happened.
It happened at about 9:45 in the morning, and it was caused by a lighting strike, which exploded a large fir tree — that was the boom — and also killed an extremely valuable brood mare. The horse, Wild Clarion, was owned by Elwood and Alice Faist and was valued at about $20,000.
The horse survived the initial strike, although Mike Harms, the veterinarian who examined her, said she had a singed streak of hair where the lightning had entered her, as well as several exit wounds.
“I don’t see how she’s still alive,” Harms told the Canby Herald at the time.
Sadly, the horse was suffering internal bleeding from the incident and eventually had to be put to sleep. One of the last daughters of the 1967 Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion, Wild Clarion had enjoyed some success racing at Portland Meadows, before a scandal apparently prompted her retirement to Canby.
In 1980, she’d had to forfeit a $1,600 purse she’d won, after urinalysis showed a medication prohibited in 2-year-olds. Her trainer, Ron Medeiros, had also been ordered to pay a $200 fine.
Crazily, another lightning bolt exploded another fir tree on North Holly Street later that same day, raining smoking debris onto the home of Al Ehrnfelt. One large chunk of wood put a hole through Ehrnfelt’s living room ceiling.
The strike “knocked me goofy like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat,” he later said. The strike also caused a small power outage, blew out several of Ehrnfelt’s windows and all of his electrical fuses, and rained debris onto his car.
So…maybe this explains the booms?
And Another One
Speaking of explosions, one caused by a natural gas leak ripped apart a Canby restaurant called the Gold Garden in the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 1984. The restaurant, located at 206 SE First, had just opened for business a few months earlier. It had previously been a restaurant called the Honey Bear, and before that, an A&W.
The explosion tore off the rear section of the Gold Garden and littered the nearby railroad tracks with debris. The owner, Vien Tran, estimated the damage at $90,000.
The blast was reportedly heard as far away as Barlow, about two miles to the south. Brad Baker, a dispatching supervisor, said he had heard the explosion at his home, about a mile and half from the blast site.
“Anybody who was awake at that time would have heard it,” Baker told The Oregonian.
Boys Will Be, Um, Burglars
On Nov. 7, 1987, a fire broke out at a shed at Maple Street Park owned by Canby Kids, a youth sports club that was sponsored by the city at the time. Today, it remains active in town as a nonprofit organization.
Anyway, the shed was used to store sports uniforms and other equipment, and within minutes, it was fully involved. It took a dozen firefighters to bring it under control, and though no one was harmed, it was estimated that over 200 football jerseys were lost in the blaze. Total damaged in excess of $20,000 was reported.
Arson, firefighters quickly determined, finding evidence of a liquid accelerant. They believed the suspect had used a wooden plank as a battering ram to gain access to the facility before setting it alight.
A week later, a 17-year-old high school student was charged in juvenile court in connection with the fire. Detectives refused to release his name, but said he would be charged with the equivalent of second-degree burglary and second-degree arson.
Rising from the Ashes
Our final story will take us all the way to 2005. On Jun 16 of that year, 40 to 50 people were gathered for a meeting at Canby Alliance Church at 900 N. Juniper Street, when a fire broke out.
The building was quickly evacuated, but Pastor Tim Barton and two other congregation members lingered in search of an unaccounted for teen. Barton went to the offices and called 9-1-1, before becoming trapped and disoriented in the thick, black smoke.
“It was dark,” he recalled. “I could feel the heat and the pressure, so I dropped the phone, got to my knees and tried to crawl out of there.”
He managed to find an exit door, but he didn’t crawl out, he was blown out. The intense pressure from the blaze blew Barton an estimated 20 feet across the parking lot. Fortunately, he sustained only minor injuries, scratches and bruises.
According to newspaper reports, the fire was started by a 16-year-old boy with developmental disabilities, who was playing with a candle and some paper in a storeroom. The teen was not charged in the case due to lack of evidence.
The fire caused an estimated $750,000 in damage. Canby Alliance Church was later rebuilt at the same location, bigger and better than ever. Tim Barton is still the pastor.
Several large beams were salvaged from the wreckage of the old church. They were fashioned into a cross that forms one of the decorative centerpieces of the new church’s sanctuary today.
That concludes our look at some of the most interesting and colorful moments from the history of the Canby Fire District. We have many more stories to tell you, but it will have to wait till next time on Canby Then.
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