EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A spectacular fire destroyed Eugene's historic Civic Stadium on Monday evening and prompted the temporary evacuation of a two-block area, the fire chief said.
Fire crews found flames shooting twice the height of the structure when they were called to the stadium at about 5:30 p.m., police spokesman John Hankemeier said. Smoke was visible throughout the city, which is about 100 miles south of Portland.
The stadium's dry, seasoned lumber caused the blaze to spread quickly, Eugene-Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves said after the fire was controlled at about 7 p.m.
He said the cause is under investigation. No one was hurt.
The stadium was approved by voters in 1938 during the Great Depression and opened that same year. Labor was provided by the Works Progress Administration, and materials were donated by lumbermen in the area. The Eugene Emeralds, a minor league team, had been a long-time tenant, but vacated in 2009.
A nonprofit group of community activists bought it in April, with plans to eventually build a soccer field and a park on the property.
"We're really heartbroken," said Derek Johnson, co-founder of the Eugene Civic Alliance, which worked for years to secure the stadium from the city of Eugene. "It's a hard day.
"When I first heard, I was desperately hoping that something could be saved of the stadium," he told The Register-Guard newspaper (http://is.gd/MxoQmT). "It's a magnificent structure but it was wood, and that was one of the parts of it that was really beautiful. But that wood ... that's an impermanent structure."
One spectator said he saw the fire start.
"I looked over and there was a small fire, just a couple feet wide, inside the press box, about 20 to 30 feet up from home plate," said Danny Sales, South Eugene High's head baseball coach.
Sales said he immediately called 911.
"And by the time I got off the phone with the operator, the whole stadium was on fire," he said.