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Opening day fire causes serious damage at the Bike Farm

Posted by on August 15th, 2013 at 10:51 am

View from outside Bike Farm this morning.
(Photos: Melinda Musser)

The non-profit, all-volunteer Bike Farm celebrated its opening day at its new location yesterday. Then this morning, volunteers awoke to news that an overnight fire destroyed all their tools and caused significant damage throughout their space at 1810 NE 1st Avenue.

Bike Farm board member Momoko Saunders said the cause of the fire was grease-filled rags that spontaneously combusted overnight. “It’s pretty intense,” she told us via telephone a few minutes ago, as she surveyed the damage. “It burnt the entire nine-foot workbench. There’s just one 2×4 left.” It addition to the workbench, the fire melted and destroyed all their workstands and tools. Fortunately, the side of the shop with a selection of used and new parts and accessories didn’t burn.

“It’s the morale that’s the biggest loss.”
— Momoko Saunders, Bike Farm board member

This is a major blow for an all-volunteer organization that had just put the final polish on a major move from a tiny, 760-square-foot shop to a brand new 4,500 square foot space. They moved into the space on Saturday and yesterday was their first official day of business.

Asked how the community can support them, Saunders says thankfully insurance will cover the losses, so while donations are more than welcome, showing support for the Bike Farm might be the best way to help. “It’s the morale that’s the biggest loss,” she said, “We were so excited. This is all volunteer and our success depends on people being excited about what we’re doing… We all pushed ourselves so hard to get to this point… We were just nearly finished.”

Here are two more shots of the damage…

Saunders says she would love to see the community stop by and support the shop and offer encouragement to get back on their feet. “Come in and say hello and hang out with us. Use the shop and make it feel good again and get rid of this negative haze that’s hanging over it now. We need support from the community to tell us we can keep on going and that Portland needs the Bike Farm.”

The only thing left to complete the Bike Farm’s big move was a grand opening celebration set for next Saturday, August 24th. Now that event is going to be a benefit party. Bike Farm’s neighbors, the Community Cycling Center, have already offered to loan them tools, but Saunders says it’s still too soon to know when they’ll be able to open again.

If you’d like to donate to Bike Farm, you can do so online. Or, if you’d like to volunteer or offer other help, contact Momoko Saunders at analyst@bikefarm.org or call (971) 533-7428.

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  • Nathan August 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I just donated $100. There are times when a good swear word is the valid first reaction, but I’ll save that for offline.

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  • A.K. August 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

    A good reminder to keep those oily rags in proper containers! http://www.amazon.com/Justrite-Galvanized-Safety-Gallons-Capacity/dp/B001DSKBXE

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  • momoko August 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks so much Nathan. Your donation will help us keep afloat while we work through this. We’re not sure when insurance money will come in, or what it will cover. We will try to open a work stand and just keep working on bikes. That’s what we need right now.

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  • Todd Hudson August 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Time to dispose of the oily rags currently sitting in my garage.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Yes its is that time of year…had it happen to me once 25 years ago on a job site but caught it in time, all it took was once.

    The fireproof can is a great suggestion along with storing cleaning solvents away from the rags too.

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  • dave August 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Happened to a friend of mine – the rags smoldered in a basket in the basement overnight, never actually catching fire, but caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of smoke damage anyway. What’s worse it could have easily killed his partner who was asleep upstairs.

    Spontaneous combustion is no joke, people. Fireproof containers, stored outside.

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  • Hart Noecker August 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    That photo of the melted light, just wow. So lucky the building didn’t catch, too. Best of luck moving forward, stay safe.

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  • A.B. August 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    So sorry to hear about this. I kicked in a donation–hope it helps!

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  • Chris I August 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    I would expect to see some sort of corrective action on their part before expecting a flood of donations. We don’t want to be wasting money on an organization with a poor safety culture when there are so many good cycling-related causes in Portland.

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    • Nathan August 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks for the advice. I’ll be going to their next meeting for that conversation!

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    • . August 15, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Obviously, after such a devastating incident, you can expect to see corrective action regarding safety protocol. You aren’t wrong to point this out, but focusing on criticism of an organization you know little about, instead of offering words of support in a trying time, is troubling and not productive. BikeFarm is an amazing resource for the cycling community and soley run by volunteers – one of the few places that truly seek to educate and support cyclists with few financial resources. I hope they are able to get back on their feet soon.

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      • BURR August 15, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        Because this is Portland and everyone needs a wittle wuv when they make a mistake, instead of criticism and corrective action?


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        • Caleb August 15, 2013 at 7:34 pm

          No, because the criticism is basest of thoughts.

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          • Chris I August 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm

            How ironic…

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            • Caleb August 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm

              Please explain to me how.

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              • Chris I August 16, 2013 at 10:31 am

                Because my criticism was criticized.

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              • Caleb August 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm

                Thanks for answering, but I actually thought it ironic because my criticism was hyperbolic, vague, and untrue, thus perhaps the most “base” comment in this thread. I briefly acknowledged so before I clicked “Post your comment”, but in my frustration with BURR’s comment, went through with it, anyway. I’m sorry I made that last comment, Chris.

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        • Caleb August 18, 2013 at 6:05 pm

          My more accurate response to your comment: I think you’ve mischaracterized .’s post, because it said nothing suggesting treatment be based on location or “wuv”. I think . laid out his/her/its reasoning well enough that we don’t have to question his/her/its motivation in making that post.

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    • Caleb August 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      I suspect Bike Farm was thinking of that corrective action long before anyone else, since their fire was in their building, but maybe not…

      Regardless, if the mistake of not putting used rags in a metal container renders a safety culture “poor”, then I’d suggest you broaden your criteria for determining a cycling related cause is “good”, because Bike Farm has served many people who would otherwise have a barrier between themselves and cycling.

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    • are August 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      i have worked in several bike shops, and while i can now see that immersing used rags in water in an enclosed can is probably a good idea, i would say that no shop i have ever worked in has done anything different that we did at the farm, which is toss the used rags loose into an open basket and take them in for laundry whenever you run low.

      anyone from bike gallery etc is welcome to comment to the contrary.

      possibly in this case the rags got packed tightly as part of the move to the new space.

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      • Bill Walters August 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

        Worked at a few shops in California from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. Without exception, used shop rags went into enclosed metal cans made for that purpose. A service provider came by weekly/bi-weekly to grab used rags and drop off clean ones.

        That costs good money, of course, so I can see how an all-volunteer organization would skip such service. But clearly the rags still need to be “canned off” somehow.

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        • are August 19, 2013 at 6:45 pm

          because of the modest volume of rags involved here (fewer than a hundred fifty), the farm was not able to get a pickup service. we took used rags down in batches of fifty or a hundred to the service and picked up replacement rags from them ourselves.

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  • Ted Buehler August 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Glad there wasn’t more nearby to burn. Could have been much worse.

    I stopped by a few minutes ago. All the material is covered with soot. Luckily, greasy bike parts and tools clean up pretty good — if there was anything like clothing, food, etc. in the inventory it would have been a total loss. They’ll need to wash and probably repaint all the walls.

    Bike Farm is a fabulous all-volunteer outfit, they deserve any support anyone can offer.

    Ted Buehler

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  • JC August 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    So who’s responsible for safety at this place? Was there ever a PFD inspection? Anyone whoever had a shop class in school knows that oily rags belong in metal container…

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    • Caleb August 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      I had a shop class in high school, and my father has owned a commercial welding and manufacturing shop on his farm since I was five. I have extensive experience with oily rags, but unlike my brother who educated me before any comments hit this story, this news was the first I had ever learned of used rags combusting. Amazing how much a person can not know…

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    • Caleb August 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Also, I think Bike Farm had a fire inspection some time this year, but hopefully someone else can say for sure.

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      • Kristina August 16, 2013 at 8:23 am

        Bike Farm, as far as I know, has had at the very least yearly fire inspections and has passed them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to continue operations.

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  • BF Frank August 15, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks everyone for their support! Without the community, we would not be here!

    If you can help out with the clean-up effort or just want to get involved, email us bikefarm@bikefarm.org or join our mailing list via the side-bar links on bikefarm.org.

    Thanks again!

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  • BIKELEPTIC August 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    It could have been much, much worse. I used to work at an art store that had classes on the third floor. One night the class didn’t take out the trash and the can full of all those paper towels with oil paint & solvent residue caught. Cost sooooo much in damage from smoke alone. All the canvasses on the 2nd floor were ruined by soot, framing material. Year later ae were still cleaning grime from the damage it caused. Remove nightly. Ventilate well!

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  • BellaBici August 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    What an unfortunate beginning. All my good thoughts and energies go to the fine folks of Bike Farm.

    I know this, that Bike Farm could also use any donation of used bicycles and parts. Bike Farm builds/repairs/tunes bicycles to sell them to our community. At a very nominal cost. Each bike donation allows the sale to go towards their operating costs.

    Remember, there are no paid employees of Bike Farm. Every cooperative volunteer donates their time and sweat to aid in a better community.

    Bike Farm, thank you for being a valued part of Portland’s bicycle fabric!

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  • Bill Stites August 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Metal containers are good, but address the problem – don’t bunch up oil/grease/solvent rags together.

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    • lazyofay August 18, 2013 at 6:52 am

      Fluff, not fold.

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  • Sue Curl August 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    So sorry to hear about the fire damage. My heart goes out to all of you that volunteer your time! Shame on the people that are being so critical and coming up with all of those negative comments. Yep…mistakes happen and I am sure everyone at The Bike Farm and many more in the community will learn from this fire. Maybe, just maybe this will save a life!

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  • Dan August 16, 2013 at 2:01 am

    Specifically what types of oil were on the combusting rags? Will biodgradable lubes such as Phil Wood, Pedro’s Chain J, etc, burst into flames on a rag, or are synthetics like TriFlo more likely to combust and why?

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    • Alan 1.0 August 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      My guess is that degradable oils oxidize more quickly (that’s how they degrade) and would therefore be slightly more likely to spontaneously combust, but the difference would be so small that it wouldn’t matter in how oily rags should be treated around the shop. I’d further guess that whatever contaminants are in the rag and oil make a far bigger difference to the oxidation reactions, and the nature of those things coming off of bike parts exposed to the world is highly variable.

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  • Kristina @ Metropolis August 16, 2013 at 8:47 am

    My heart hurt for Bike Farm when I heard the news. I know the move was a big decision for them and to have this sort of thing happen right off the starting block is a huge blow. Moving forward from this; there are so many people in the bike industry/community that recognize and appreciate what they do, and so many dedicated volunteers, I’m sure the move will prove to be a great success for them.

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  • Last of the Mohicans August 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Additionally another wise investment would be a flammables cabinet, any solvents, lubricants, paints, etc.

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  • Rev Nat's Cider August 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I am a tenant in the same building as The Bike Farm. (And I happened to be the first on the scene and called 911.) We suffered some significant smoke damage in our space and all of the neighboring space will need to be gutted and rebuilt. The Bike Farm is currently closed by fire investigators and insurance claims people. So don’t come by now. Their space will need all the ceiling insulation and Sheetrock removed and replaced.

    Regardless of the good this group does, it was a careless move and one having repercussions beyond their community. Safety first! I do hope they recover quickly. Having a burned out business next door isn’t a good thing.

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  • momoko August 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

    We are unable to enter our building now due to fire investigation. When they are finished, we will be moving all our salvageable items into storage while they re-sheetrock and insulate our building. We will not be able to operate in Bike Farm for a while. Please keep an eye on our facebook page and website for updates.

    We are however going to have a pop up repair stand at Monday Fun Day at Colonel Summers Park (this monday the 19th). We will try to have a day each week where we go out and help people fix their bikes.

    I’m so glad people are eager to help out. I hope in a few weeks time, when we are able to re-install our shop, you will still be ready to help then.

    Thanks again for all the love and support.

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    • lazyofay August 18, 2013 at 6:56 am

      Invert the melted light cover..put a disco light in the new base and use it as a festive totem for your future and a new positive juju.

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  • sift August 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    they are clearly not real cyclists; cyclists follow proper safety protocol!!

    were they even WEARING helmets???

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  • naron August 19, 2013 at 5:06 am

    I’m a great fan of community bike shops and have delighted in seeing them pop up across the country. Not often I learn of one in the midst of recovering from a disaster. I hope you can recover from this quickly. Best of luck from Missoula, Montana.

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  • Colin August 23, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I have the utmost confidence that Bike Farm will have all necessary security protocols in place and will educate others about the importance of this hazard. Because they are all-volunteer, completely nonprofit, and provide a valuable service to the community in the form of teaching self-sufficiency, I will be devoting time and money to help them move forward.

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