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Sprinkler system saves Oak Harbor’s Roller Barn

Oak Harbor firefighters Conor Ching, Steve McCalmont, Rich Rodgers and Jim Pauley coil a fire hose following a small blaze at the Roller Barn Sunday. The building was saved by the sprinkler system.  - Photo courtesy of John Fisken
Oak Harbor firefighters Conor Ching, Steve McCalmont, Rich Rodgers and Jim Pauley coil a fire hose following a small blaze at the Roller Barn Sunday. The building was saved by the sprinkler system.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of John Fisken

The Roller Barn, a building considered by many to be an Oak Harbor landmark, was nearly lost forever Sunday in a mysterious basement fire.

According to Oak Harbor Fire Chief Mark Soptich, the blaze is believed to have started at about 1:15 p.m. and was located just behind the building’s basement doors. Firefighters were on scene within five minutes but found most of their work already done.

Soptich said the building’s automated fire system detected the flames and activated two sprinkler heads, which was enough to keep things under control until they arrived. The large wooden structure, coupled with Sunday’s stiff breeze, would have made for a difficult fire to fight.

Without a doubt, the historic building would have been lost had the system not been in place, he said.

“It saved a landmark,” he said.

According to Oak Harbor amateur historian and author Peggy Darst Townsdin, the Roller Barn is nearly 100 years old. It was completed in 1913 by Etto VanDyke and was originally built to house livestock and cattle.

While not the oldest building on the island, Darst Townsdin said it’s one of the most important buildings in Oak Harbor and can most certainly be considered a landmark.

“It would have been horrible to lose the Roller Barn,” Darst Townsdin said. “It’s one of the most historic things left in Oak Harbor.”

The iconic red building has been owned by the Snohomish County Boys Club for the past several years. The nonprofit group continues to operate the roller rink but also uses it for its childcare services. Club Director Peggy Fenstermaker said she suffered a few heart-swallowing moments Sunday afternoon when she was told about the nearly disastrous fire.

“Thank God for the sprinkler system,” she said.

Fenstermaker said she doesn’t know how the fire got started. The basement has been converted for use as a haunted house, but there was nothing in the area that could have started the small blaze. The only possible cause was a mechanical dummy in a coffin, but the device wasn’t plugged in.

The dummy did not survive.

“He’s no longer with us; he melted,” Fenstermaker said.

Soptich confirmed that the dummy was the only casualty of the incident. None of the 18 firefighters that responded suffered any injuries, he said. There was also very little damage. Aside from the dummy, only a small area of ceiling measuring about 10 feet wide by 6 feet was scorched.

He estimated total damages at under $1,000.

As for how the fire got started, Soptich declined to release any details other than to say that several possibilities are under investigation.

Community Events, April 2014

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