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'He had tears going down his face like he lost an old friend'

Bystanders watch flames burn Eugene Civic Stadium June 29, 2015.
Bystanders watch flames burn Eugene Civic Stadium June 29, 2015.
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EUGENE, Ore. - A fire destroyed the wooden grandstands of Eugene Civic Stadium, built in 1938.

"It appears as though the stadium is a total loss," Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves said.

"This was our worst nightmare, and it's been realized," said Derek Johnson, a Eugene attorney who helped spearhead the effort to buy the property as part of the Eugene Civic Alliance.

The Alliance acquired the grandstands and property in April for $4.5 million.

The vision: rehabilitate the grandstands and build a fieldhouse for youth sports, semi-pro soccer and other community uses, in keeping with the building's history.

"We've worked really, really hard, and there's a lot of people in this community who just poured their souls into this," Johnson said. "And it's, you can't - it's tough to relate, even start thinking about that place not being there. It's a tough day for all of us."

Built during the Great Depression, the stadium hosted community sporting events. From 1969 until 2009, the stadium was the home of the Eugene Emeralds. | Civic Stadium History

Fire under investigation

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Eugene Police asked for the public's help investigating what started the fire. Anyone with video, photos or information from the start of the fire is asked to call (541) 682-8888.

Groves said the first calls came in at 5:26 p.m. The call went out as a general alarm, calling all off-duty firefighters in to provide protection for the rest of the community as dozens of their colleages fought the flames.

The fire was brought under control just before 7 p.m.

However, the structure is expected to smolder for days, Groves said. And police urged residents to watch for embers downwind from the fire.

The first fire crews arrived to find flames twice the height of the building.

"That gives you an indication how much heat and fire we had to contend with," Groves said.

The grandstands were lost by the time firefighters arrived, the chief said.

"It's very dry timber. Very seasoned timber. All wood. Exposed beams underneath the stadium and around the stadium," Groves said. "This is the way large wooden structures react a fire."

Homes evacuated as 'Field of Dreams' goes up in flames

Firefighters and police evacuated homes in a two block radius as crews worked to contain the flames.

"I was afraid it was going to burn my house down, I need to get home and go wet my roof," said Marie McDonald, a nearby resident.

"I had been outside not even 5 minutes before it started and heard everybody yelling and came out," said Cassie Johnson, another neighbor. "It was just smoke everywhere, fire full on raging. Started to catch the trees (and) the powerlines."

"There were people walking away from seeing this fire crying. One man was sobbing, he had tears going down his face; it was like he lost an old friend," McDonald said.

Groves, the fire chief, could relate.

"I feel a deep sense of loss," he said. "I've come here for years watching ball games. I brought my kids here for many years. It's a sad day for the community."

So could resident Erin Landweber.

"I've been coming here with one of my sports teams when I was a kid, and one of my friend's grandfathers owned a concession here," Landweber said.

Derek Johnson with the Civic Alliance found out from colleagues at work.

"The first calls were from some people who were still in the office where I work downtown, and they just said - first thing they said was, 'Derek, I am really, really sorry'."

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