Cause ‘undetermined’ of fire which destroyed fair dairy barn Monday

By Dave Marner, Managing Editor
Posted 4/15/20

A Missouri State Fire Marshal’s investigation into the cause of an early-morning fire Monday which destroyed the Gasconade County Fair Association’s dairy barn will remain …

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Cause ‘undetermined’ of fire which destroyed fair dairy barn Monday

Posted

A Missouri State Fire Marshal’s investigation into the cause of an early-morning fire Monday which destroyed the Gasconade County Fair Association’s dairy barn will remain undetermined.

Owensville Fire Chief Scott Stranghoener said Tuesday he had spoken with Josh Hall, the Fire Marshal’s investigator for the region, and Hall’s initial thinking from Monday would be the final ruling.

“The official report will list it as undetermined,” said Stranghoener citing his talk with Hall. “There were too many different scenarios and we can’t define one of them.”

The fire was reported at 3:49 a.m. Monday and Stranghoener said the building was fully engulfed in flames when he arrived at 3:55 a.m. April 13. Volunteer firemen from the Owensville and Belle departments, and the Bland and Gerald-Rosebud and Beaufort-Leslie fire protection districts responded to the call which went to a second alarm.

Hall met at length on Monday at the site with Stranghoener and Gasconade County Sheriff’s reserve deputy John Rutz, a former arson investigator in Liberty, Mo.

They had closely examined pieces of copper wiring where all the coating had been burned off. The electric control panel box at the east end of the building had signs of power arcing, said Hall. The wiring inside was charred.

Electricity had been in service to the barn, Fair Association members confirmed for Hall. Hall said they could not rule out an electrical cause, possibly a power surge, a broken wire somewhere, a spark from an animal chewing through a wire.

They could make no determination if someone had been staying in the barn to shelter from the weather. Stranghoener said Hall did tell him there was no detection of a lightning strike in the area which could be cited as a possible cause.

“With the wood chips on the floor, and the timbers, there was a heavy fire load,” said Hall.

“We can’t rule out electrical as the cause and we  can’t rule out somebody wasn’t in here trying to stay warm,” said Stranghoener.

An estimated 100 plastic 55-gallon barrels stacked near the east end of the building, used to collect trash during the fair and other park events, were reduced to a few piles of melted material, stuck and dried onto the sawdust flooring material.

Hall said the fire began on the east end of the building where the sliding doors were completely consumed by fire. Stranghoener said it appeared the fire burned back toward the west but the breeze coming into the building from the ground-level livestock ventilation window appears to have kept the fire from advancing. Instead it burned up to the ceiling and then spread everywhere.

The flooring material, wood shavings and chips, was burned on top but still wet beneath. The metal roof was resting on the concrete foundations, supported only by the largest poles. All other wood inside had been consumed.

Hall went with Fair Association officers to the nearby Sheep Building to examine the construction of a similar structure from a similar time period to gain a  better understanding of what the interior of the Dairy Barn had looked like.

Hall noted there was extensive charring, up to inch-deep, on pine support posts, 8-inches in diameter, throughout the barn. Wood slats which created the roof deck and rafters were completely burned away from the attached tin covering.

Heat from the blaze or falling debris bent several sections of gate panels constructed out of tubular steel. Fair Association members managed to pull out fence panels constructed by the high school’s FFA program which were salvageable before the structure was pushed over into a pile on Tuesday morning by Tim Jenkins. Hall had recommended the structure be leveled due to safety concerns. The Fair Association insures their own buildings, according to city staff.

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