Fire rages through historic Vale granary

Fire crews work from engines stationed around the Dentinger granary in Vale Saturday afternoon. (The Enterprise/Carolyn Agrimis)

VALE – Fire tore through the Dentinger Feed & Seed granary in downtown Vale Saturday afternoon, destroying a community landmark and challenging firefighters who had to work in 100-degree heat.

Black smoke could be seen for miles and fire agencies from the area sent help but nothing could save the historic structure.

The towering grain elevator, one of the tallest structures in Vale, collapsed in spectacular fashion as fire consumed the building.

The granary at 165 Morton St. E. was closed at the time and no one was injured, authorities said. The family-owned business was founded in 1938 by Stanley Dentinger. 

Rick Dentinger, grandson of the founder, was working in the family’s hardware store a block away when someone came in about 2:30 p.m. to report the fire. Dentinger said he didn’t know what the person was talking about until he stepped out the back of the hardware store and saw flames.

Scott Hall Jr. of Vale said he and friend were returning to Vale when they saw “little puffs of black smoke coming out of the tower.” He said they drove around the block to reach the granary.

“We rolled down the window and you could smell the smoke,” Hall said in a message to the Enterprise. “Just as we did that, one of the firefighters was driving by looking at it and raced for the station.”

Hall said his brother, Tanner, recognized the man as a local firefighter.

Dentinger, his sons Mike and Matt, and employee Seve Yraguen went into the smoke-filled office of the granary to retrieve essential business records. Dentinger said they made two trips.

Vale Fire Chief Jess Tolman said the the alarm was sounded at 2:45 p.m.

“As I was coming off the hill I could see the smoke coming off the building,” he said. “At that time, I started calling in additional resources because I knew it would exceed (the Vale agency’s) capabilities.”

He said a Vale fire engine and firefighters joined him at the scene “within minutes” and additional firefighters from outside of town arrived quickly afterwards. Of the Vale Fire Department’s 17 volunteers, eight responded Saturday, he said.

Fire crews also arrived from Ontario, Brogan, Weiser and Fruitland.

Smoke billowed into the air for hours and electricity was out temporarily in the surrounding blocks, but no neighboring buildings were damaged by the blaze. Crews kept the flames from two structures right next to the granary.

“It always feels good when you are able to keep the fire to the building of origin,” said Tolman.

Vale resident Randy Seals caught the fire on video that he later shared on Facebook.

In a message to the Enterprise, Seals said he saw the smoke as he and his daughter Elise were driving back from dropping off breast cancer awareness bracelets in honor of his sister-in-law, who recently died.

He said he stopped to volunteer to help retrieve items from the granary office.

“Rick and his boys and a few other people were in there, and at that point the flames were starting to grow in the adjacent area of the building with smoke getting heavier so we all decided to just get out,” he said. 

“At that point, I could hear the fire trucks, so I just decided to stay out of the way and got my iPhone out to start recording,” he said. Seals caught the dramatic collapse of the grain elevator in a video that had been viewed on Facebook more than 50,000 times by Monday afternoon. 

“I was just in awe of how fast and how consuming the fire spread,” said Seals. “It was surreal to watch the tower crash.”

Tolman said the video like the one Seals took could help investigators determine the cause. The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office was expected to have investigators in Vale this week to help.

 “The videos on Facebook will really help up determine which side of the building the fire started on,” he said. “Any fire we investigate, if you can read it, will always go back to the point of origin. Material on scene for the most part will always point back to the origin.”

Tolman said that getting witness statements also would help fire investigators “pinpoint where the fire potentially started.”

The investigation will have to wait until the fire scene cools.

“There is still some smoldering inside the building and that is just because there is 20 tons of heavy machinery laying on top of those grain bins,” said Tolman Monday. “It is essentially going to have to burn itself out on the inside but it’s not going anywhere.”

Reporters Pat Caldwell, Kristine de Leon, and Max Egener contributed to this report.

Carolyn Agrimis: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.