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Planes, hangars destroyed in Grove Field fire in Camas

At least 12 hangars and several recreational planes were destroyed when a fire ripped through Grove Field in Camas Monday night.

Firefighters from East County Fire & Rescue, whose station is a couple hundred feet from the flames, responded to the airfield within minutes of the 911 call at 10:22 p.m. with witnesses reporting fire and explosions.

After 26 minutes of suppression efforts, crews upgraded the call to a second alarm, calling for additional resources from Vancouver and Camas-Washougal fire departments to respond to assist.

The fast-moving blaze was knocked down in less than an hour, but the damage to the building and several Cessna-style recreation planes is estimated to be in the millions of dollars, said David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal. The port owns the Grove Field airport.

No one was injured.

Though at least 12 hangars were destroyed, it is not yet known how many planes were among those lost. Some pilots, Ripp said, had their planes with them at the time of the fire.

Plane owners visited the ashes Tuesday morning, many arriving to find their planes reduced to an engine block. Some hangars housed antique cars that were reduced to the frame in the blaze.

Frank Spencer of Camas keeps his Cherokee 180 in one of the now destroyed hangars. He heard about the fire Monday night but waited until daylight Tuesday to inspect the damage.

Spencer said that arriving, he “saw a heartbreak. I saw my retirement fun and games gone,” he said. “God there’s nothing there … I could carry it with my hand.”

Spencer has owned his plane for about 12 years and said he flies it when he can but “not nearly enough.”

With the sunny weather reaching 80 degrees Monday, Spencer took a flight to The Dalles to enjoy the clear skies.

“I haven’t had a better day in years,” he said. “I'll probably never fly again.”

Even though his plane is insured, he said that it would be too much work to start the hobby over again.

The 10,000 square foot building that is home to about a dozen hangars is made of wood and sheet metal, Ripp said. While the building undergoes inspections twice a year, Ripp said, it was not outfitted with sprinklers. Fuel storage is not allowed in the hangars, he said.

“These are some of the older hangars,” Ripp said. “The newer ones are all steel so it probably would have gone a little differently.”

Dennis Mock, who lives nearby, smelled smoke Monday night but didn’t think much of it because of the burn season. However, when his dogs started barking, he looked outside to see the small glow of the fire at the airport.

He scrambled to get to his neighbor, who had keys to one of the hangars. Within minutes the fire was already fully involved, Mock said.

Mock and his neighbor, who had keys to a few nearby hangars, began opening doors and moved three airplanes, a Corvette and some other pieces of property to nearby yards and other hangars situated farther away from the fire.

Though the hangars he had cleared out were the ones spared from fire damage, Mock said he didn’t know that at the time.

“We weren’t really thinking, we were just trying to get stuff out,” he said. “I don’t own a plane … but this is their passion. This is really unfortunate.”

Fire investigators with the Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office were on scene Tuesday morning to investigate the cause of the blaze.