Fire engulfs St. Helens' Les Schwab, closes portion of Hwy 30

ST. HELENS, Ore. - Thick black smoke billowed into the sky over this town Friday afternoon and could be seen for miles as a fire ripped through the Les Schwab Tire Center here.

The fire forced Hood to Coast relay participants to detour and closed down a portion a major thoroughfare, disrupting traffic.

About 30 firefighters from four agencies attacked it from various angles as flames ate holes into the walls of the building and eventually collapsed the roof. Crews brought in 10,000 feet of hose to reach city hydrants.

The fire was called in just after 4 p.m. and quickly went to two alarms. It forced the closure of Highway 30 from Millard Road to Gable Road as crews worked to fight the blaze.

The highway is the same route that runners are taking for the Hood to Coast relay. Participants are being detoured onto Millard Road, according to a race organizer.

Buses with Columbia County River Transit are also being detoured around the area, officials with that agency said.

Columbia River PUD had to cut power to a power line in front of the building to make it safer for fire crews to continue to fight the fire. About 850 PUD customers, that included a few businesses, lost power when power was cut to that line. At about 6:30 crews were able to reroute power and get the power back on to all but 40 customers. According to the utility, those customers will be without power until firefighters determine it is safe to "re-energize" the line in front of Les Schwab.

Employees at the Les Schwab first became aware there was a problem when a customer told them their building was on fire, according to Ronda Melton, spokeswoman with Scappoose Fire.

"The manager and another worker grabbed fire extinguishers. The manager ran outside, he saw fire in the grass area, was extinguishing it with an extinguisher, thinking that was it. And then he looked up, fire was coming out of the roof of the back corner," she said.

She said everyone got out of the building and there were no injuries.

A cause has not yet been determined.

Four cars were in for service when the fire started, including a Columbia County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicle, according to the sheriff. All four were destroyed.

The lead response agency was Columbia River Fire & Rescue. It was assisted by units from Scappoose, Clatskanie and the Oregon Department of Forestry, which kept an eye on surrounding grass to ensure it didn't catch fire.

Melton said the fire was under control by about 6:30 and a short time later the black suffocating smoke was replaced with wisps of white. It was expected that firefighters would be on scene well into the night to keep an eye on smoldering areas.

The building is a total loss.

KATU News reporter Meghan Kalkstein contributed to this report.

Video of the fire from Brent Violette: