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The fire destroyed a barn at the Cornelius-area vineyard that stored hundreds of cases of wine.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - A barn at A Blooming Hill Vineyard caught fire and was destroyed on New Year's Eve 2019.Fire inspectors continue to investigate the cause of a fire that destroyed a barn at a Blooming winery on New Year's Eve, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue officials said Thursday, Jan. 2.

Firefighters were dispatched to the fire at A Blooming Hill Vineyard, a few miles south of Cornelius, shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31. They reported finding heavy smoke and flames shooting from throughout the 7,000-square-foot structure.

Part of the roof collapsed minutes after firefighters arrived on the scene, preventing them from going into the structure, FGF&R said in a statement.

Wind gusts as high as 25 mph caused the fire to spread quickly, and by 4 p.m., firefighters upgraded the situation to a two-alarm fire to bring in additional resources.

Firefighters put out most of the flames Tuesday evening, but Holly Witte, owner of the vineyard, looked on Thursday as firefighters returned to the scene to speak to witnesses and put out spot fires still burning within the structure nearly 48 hours later.

The fire destroyed hundreds of cases of wine, which Witte estimates was worth about $250,000.

"I think we were in shock the first day, and today, the sadness is setting in," Witte said.

When the fire started, Witte was in the winery tasting room talking with family via Skype when she heard pounding footsteps on the floor above, she said. She thought her husband, Jim, and a vineyard employee, David Kendall, were having a fight.

"By the time I got to the kitchen, I realized David was saying, 'Barn! Fire! 9-1-1!'" Witte said.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - Holly Witte, owner of A Blooming Hill Vineyard, carries a saddle away from her barn, which was destroyed by a fire on New Year's Eve 2019.Kendall was in the barn retrieving wine for a New Year's Eve celebration from the storeroom in the barn when the fire started, Witte said. Kendall went into the storeroom in the barn and saw a box where they keep cardboard wine shipping materials on fire, she said.

"He saw the flames and got a hose and tried to put it out, but it got away from him so fast," Witte said. "Jim was rushing back because the horses were in the barn. All we saw at the point was a lot of dense white smoke."

Witte said her husband opened the barn's gate to let their five horses out. The horses started running toward another opened gate leading to an uncontained area of the property, she said. She stepped out in front of the horses before they could escape, and they turned around and went back into the pasture, Witte said.

Kendall experienced breathing issues after the incident and was transported to the hospital. He told fire investigators Thursday that he didn't know how the fire started, because nothing was out of the ordinary in the storeroom.

"It was an 'annus horribilis,'" Witte said, quoting a phrase made popular by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 — a year in which the royal family experienced several hardships, including a fire in Windsor Castle.

Earlier in 2019, Jim Witte had an operation on his lung, and doctors discovered cancer as well as a problem with a valve in his heart. He said he felt powerless in the scramble to put out flames in the barn.

"By New Year's Eve, you wouldn't have thought anything worse could happen," Holly Witte said.

Despite the fire, Witte plans to have the tasting room open to the public this weekend. She said she was thankful for all the messages of support she's received from the community since the fire.


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