'Just like Civic, it's another one of our landmarks burned'

EUGENE, Ore. - As flames consumed the Southtowne Lanes Bowling Center, firefighters worked to keep the fire from spreading to nearby businesses on South Willamette Street Wednesday.

Everyone inside when the fire broke out is believed to have escaped uninjured, according to fire officials at the scene.

The fire was contained to the building as of 6:30 p.m. but is expected to burn for some time.

The first reports came in just before 4.

An hour later, the roof collapsed as flames sent a plume of smoke up over the South Eugene skyline for the second time in as many months.

"I looked up and I could see smoke," said Karen Mount, who lives nearby. "That's when I came out and I said, 'I think it's the bowling alley.' Southtowne has been here forever, you know, since I was 13 years old, you know. It's just like Civic, it's been here forever. It's another one of our landmarks burned."

Southtowne Lanes employees are shocked by the incident as well.

"It's an old building, you know with old wiring and old everything," said Brandon Pate, Southtowne Lanes employee. "So, I guess it wasn't, you know, impossible for something like this to happen, but I was expecting to come to work today and have it be a normal day."

"There's other places to bowl, but there is no place quite like Southtowne and the vibe that it has It looks like it's beyond saving at this point." he said

The timing was eerie: crews had just started work in earnest 4 blocks away to dismantle and clean up the ruins of Eugene Civic Stadium.

The first firefighters on scene at the bowling alley were forced out of the building by the intensity of the fire, fire officials said.

"We made entry," said Al Gerard, assistant fire chief. "Crews started trying to put the fire out, but it quickly became a zero visibility situation because of the smoke, so we had to back the crews out for safety."

They made sure people got out of the bowling alley and adjacent buildings and began a defensive attack to try to contain the fire to the building.

People evacuated from nearby buildings as the fire erupted. A neighoring business reported losing power to their building. The extent of the outage was not immediately known.

Firefighters reported having the fire contained shortly after 6 p.m., limiting the fire's spread to the bowling alley.

Gerard said the building is an older structure with a wooden frame and wasn't equipped with sprinklers.

Because of the amount of wood in the building, Gerard said the fire will likely burn for a while.

The call came in at 3:55 p.m. Witnesses told firefighters they heard large popping noises when the fire broke out.

Around 4:50 p.m., the roof of the building collapsed.

The emergency response closed Willamette between 24th and 27th to all traffic, police said.

The bowling alley is 4 blocks south of Eugene Civic Stadium. A fire destroyed the historic grandstands June 29.

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