oregon fire truck

A flameless fire in an Oregon bar stumped 30 firefighters Friday evening as they worked to identify the source of the smoke and quickly return evacuees to the building.

“It was actually a very interesting and complex fire,” Oregon Fire Chief Glenn Linzmeier said in an interview. “There’s absolutely no damage to the building. No tenants displaced. Really weird.”

A dozen Oregon firefighters responded shortly before 8 p.m. to a report of smoke at Ace’s Main Street Tap, he said. All told, another 18 first responders from surrounding fire departments, including Fitchburg and McFarland, joined them at the building at 121 S. Main St.

There were no visible flames in the two-story building, but smoke was building up, so diners and those living in apartments on the second floor were evacuated.

Firefighters used thermal imaging cameras and some old fire techniques — such as introducing fresh air into the building to see where embers built up — in order to locate the source, which took about an hour, he said.

Responders determined that the fire originated from debris located in a gap between the outside basement wall and the sidewalk that was obscured by concrete and ground.

Smoke built up in the crawlspace and moved into the restaurant’s basement.

Crews squeezed into the crawlspace, no more than 30 inches high, to monitor conditions as others flooded about 300 gallons of water into the gap from the outside.

“Once we found it, it was pretty easy,” Linzmeier said.

He said there was no indication that the fire was intentionally set. His best guess was that someone threw a cigarette butt onto the ground and it happened to fall into the space between the building’s wall and the sidewalk.

Linzmeier said some diners may be upset with the disruption of their Friday night fish fry. But there were no firefighter or civilian injuries and no property damage, either.

“You can’t ask for a better outcome,” he said. “If this had happened in the middle of the night, you don’t know what it could have burned.”

By 11:30 p.m., the bar was up and running, “serving beers again,” he said.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.