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Potato shed destroyed by fire
Fire at L&M Produce fueled by packing materials, pallets
salvageable," said Jon Ongman, chief of the Merrill
Rural Fire Department.
The cause of the fire,
which started about 1 p.m., is under investigation
by a team from Klamath Fire District No. 1.
Michael McKoen, general
manager, was in the building doing inventory when
the fire started, Rice said. About an hour earlier
he had used a butane torch to cut pieces of angle
Owned by Lee McKoen
Jr., Michael McKoen's father, the building was built
in the 1960s, said Kristine Golden, L&M Produce
secretary. She said she heard radio traffic about
the fire on a scanner she has at her Klamath Falls
home and quickly drove down to the shed.
Lee McKoen declined
"He spent countless
hours working on water issues," she said.
A man passing by
noticed the smoke and rushed into the Les Schwab
tire store next door to the potato shed to call 911,
said Marlan McAuliffe, a Les Schwab worker.
Smoke billowed out of
the building as they checked the doors, but all were
The men debated whether
they should go in to try to find him.
A volunteer firefighter
with Tulelake Fire Department, Michael McKoen stayed
on scene to fight the fire.
Responding to the fire
was Fire District No. 1's newest truck, a $669,000
fire engine with a 100-foot hydraulic ladder and
platform. Rice said it was the first time the truck
was used on an active fire.
Ongman said the fire
was under control around 4 p.m., but crews would be
on hand throughout the night, putting water on hot
spots. Late Saturday afternoon, he said the fire was
still hot in "little dinky rooms you can't get
Golden said the shed
has about 45 employees, most seasonal, in November
and December, the peak months of potato packing. The
workers came down from Klamath Falls, Merrill and
Malin and up from Tulelake and Newell. She said she
didn't know what they will do for work.
She said the insurance
on the building was paid up and their agent was on
Records for the potato
packing company are safe, Golden said, because she
did a computer backup late last week and has them in
the back of her car.
Her husband and Lee
McKoen's brother Mike McKoen had owned the shed with
his brother in the late '90s. He was the "M" in L&M
Produce and sold out his share of the company before
he died in August 2001 of a heart attack at the age
Lee McKoen Sr. worked
for more than six decades at the busy corner between
Merrill and Tulelake where the fire occurred, she
said. The elder McKoen first worked for potato
packing giant A. Levi J. Zenter, but then bought out
the shed which he later sold to his sons.
"They had farmers who
came there for 50 years, never took them anywhere
else," Linda McKoen said.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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