A firefighter who was critically injured in an explosion while battling a large barn fire in St. Paul early Thursday morning later died of his injuries, authorities announced.
The St. Paul Fire District firefighter was identified as 30-year-old Austin Smith, a resident of St. Paul.
“Today, I come before you with heavy heart, as we’ve been dealt a significant loss to our family, our department and the St. Paul community,” St. Paul Chief Bryan Lee said during a media briefing at the St. Paul Rodeo Thursday afternoon.
The fire began just after 4 a.m. near Champoeg Creek Lane Northeast and McKay Road Northeast. Canby Fire District Chief Jim Davis said crews arrived on scene to find a barn fully involved.
A second alarm was dispatched, and units from Canby, Aurora, Hubbard, Tualatin Valley, Dayton and Woodburn responded to the scene.
“While advancing hose lines, an explosion occurred from a container next to the barn,” Davis told the Current. “A firefighter sustained life-threatening injuries and was flown to OHSU.”
Sadly, Smith died of his injuries while at Oregon Health and Science University, Lee confirmed later Thursday.
“We in the community are absolutely heartbroken over this loss,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Austin’s family and friends as we all begin the grieving process. We want to thank our community and neighboring agencies for their help during this horrible time.”
Smith had been a volunteer member of St. Paul Fire since 2015. He leaves behind a wife, Ashley, and extended family in St. Paul, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
“This community is one of the tightest-knit communities that I’ve ever seen or come across,” said Mark Daniel, public information officer for the fire district. “The members of this fire department are members of this community, and they truly serve this community because they are serving their family.
“Austin is a part of that, and really, a part of the history of St. Paul. The Smith family goes back generations, to the founding of the St. Paul Rodeo. He and his family are entrenched in the very culture of this community. So, like the chief said, our hearts are broken, and he will be sorely missed.”
Smith’s father, Dave Smith, is a member of the St. Paul Rodeo Board of Directors, and his great-grandfather and great-uncles were among the founders of the event.
Austin Smith was also an award-winning hop farmer, homebrewer and manager of St. Paul’s B&D Farms. Austin was a sixth-generation hop farmer who just last month celebrated winning the Cascade Cup at the 66th annual USA Hop Convention. He also had a St. Paul brewery/taproom concept in the works that he hoped to open later this year.
Austin’s great-great-grandfather first started hop farming along the sandy loam against the Willamette River in 1895. Austin’s father and uncle Ben and Dave Smith founded B&D Hop Farms in 1984 and took it from 15 acres of hops to over 1,000 acres growing nine different hop varieties today. B&D is one of six farms to found the West Coast Hop Breeding Company and provides hops to both large national breweries and small locals.
Officials have not said what caused the fire, but Oregon State Police told FOX 12 that arson detectives have responded to the scene.
Marion County officials said at Thursday’s press conference that it could be several days before the scene is safe enough to complete their investigation and share more information about what happened.
Investigators from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, OSP and the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal have been called to the scene to investigate the incident.
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