A portion of the Philomath Fire & Rodeo grandstands burned late Monday night. (Photo provided by Jacob Coon/Philomath Police Department)

A fire broke out in the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo grandstands late Monday night and caused heavy damage just 10 days before the opening of the community’s biggest celebration.

Philomath Fire & Rescue and several agencies from surrounding districts responded to the fire at approximately 10:50 p.m.  

“It’s tragic,” said Chris Workman, Philomath Frolic & Rodeo board member who had just gone to bed when he received notification about the fire. “The only good side of this is nobody got hurt.”

Video of the fire at the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo grandstands late Monday night. (Video provided by Jacob Coon/Philomath Police Department)

Specific details about the response and the possible cause of the fire were not immediately available from Fire & Rescue sources, who were actively working the scene.

“The fire department’s investigating,” Workman said after talking with the investigator. “We’re looking into it and I don’t want to speculate too much at this point.”

Philomath Police Officer Jacob Coon, who was the first to arrive, said he discovered the grandstands engulfed in flames.

From the damage that can be seen, it appears that up to one-third of the grandstand’s capacity might’ve been lost. The worst damage appears to have occurred in Section D and part of Section C, which are both reserved seating and the most popular vantage points for spectators.

Said Workman, “We sell a lot of Section C and D because they’re in front of the bucking chutes and are a little bit closer to the action.”

Smoke pours out of the grandstand sections burned by the fire. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Frolic & Rodeo President Darell Hinchberger said the organization’s leadership will need to sit down and figure out what needs to be done to make sure the rodeo goes on as planned, if that’s possible.

“We’re two weeks from the rodeo and we’re going to have a lot of questions to ask and how quickly can we get this all put back together again so we can keep our show running,” Hinchberger said. “I can’t recall over the last 30-some years that we’ve ever had anything like this. A couple of weather issues but nothing like this.”

Workman offered a similar response.

“We’ll see how quickly we can move on stuff,” Workman said. “The initial conversations I’ve had with the rodeo president is as far as we know, we’re going to make a go at the rodeo still. We’ll be refunding a few seats, obviously.”

Stored under the stands on the end of where the fire broke out was a gas-powered lawnmower and at least a two-gallon canister of gasoline, Workman said, along with a few other items.

“Not a lot … not a lot of fuel material,” Workman said. “In fact, that whole section … we just cleared all that stuff out here a few months ago; got rid of a lot of stuff.”

Philomath Fire & Rescue’s Rich Saalsaa, left, and Philomath Frolic & Rodeo’s Chris Workman look at the damage. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Police scanner traffic indicated “small explosions” that could be heard at the rodeo grounds. On the far end of the grandstands, three large barrels used in the arena for the barrel racing competition were stored.

“They’re sealed on both ends, so they’re a little bit heavier and they’re harder to tip over for the horses … so we have three of those in there,” Workman said. “When they got hot, they blew their tops and I guess made some pretty good popping noises.”

Workman said first thing Tuesday morning, the organization’s insurance agent will be contacted.

“We keep the grounds fully insured all year round,” he said. “You hope nothing like this happens and when it does happen, you hope your insurance is right and pulls through for you. We’ve got a good local agent.”

Workman indicated that a structural engineer would likely be brought in to determine the extent of the damage as part of the process of determining how to best cordon off the area during the rodeo.

A caretaker stays at the rodeo grounds in a trailer. Workman said he wasn’t in the area.

A view of the burned sections in the grandstands. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

“The biggest thing tomorrow is getting the site secured so nobody’s out here getting themselves hurt with the debris and just being curious,” Workman said.

Despite the situation, the Frolic & Rodeo’s initial reaction was to move forward with this year’s performances. The organizers will soon find out if that’s a realistic option and if so, just how to proceed.

“We went without a rodeo two years ago and I don’t see this putting us back to not having a rodeo again unless I’m told otherwise from insurance or somebody else,” Workman said. “So we’ll find a way to make it happen and see how quickly we can get this rebuilt.”

Monroe firefighters spray water in an area underneath the grandstands. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.