Fire destroys Redbird Community Center

Roxanne Murphy

REDBIRD — Fire Thursday morning which destroyed an 1880s building being renovated in Redbird is being investigated by the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office.

Fire originated from a vehicle parked in beside the Redbird Community Center, according to a release from state fire officials.

“The fire did begin in an abandoned vehicle parked where the front end was resting on the building,” Mike O’Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety. “This then spread to the building. The fire is incendiary and is under investigation.” 

The release did not specify if the “incendiary” nature of the fire was due to it being intentionally set or if it was caused by spontaneous combustion. 

Reports of a Chevrolet Tahoe being pursued in Phelps County and onto Route B south of Redbird proved unfounded. A Phelps County deputy told The Republican one of their deputies was following a different make of vehicle and the driver did not stop. The fire had already been reported at the time and the vehicle “being pursued was located later and towed by (the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s) Troop F.”

“I wouldn’t call it a pursuit,” the deputy said about the incident. “The vehicle didn’t stop, but they were not going high speed. The vehicle that burnt was not the one that was involved.”

Bland Fire Chief Doug Nochta reported 12 agencies responded to the Redbird Community Center fire last Thursday afternoon that resulted in a complete loss of the building.

Nochta said his department received word from dispatch at 8:48 a.m. April 12 of a vehicle fire in front of the community center that was a former school house. A passersby had called it in.

“When we got there, the building was fully involved, along with a small brush fire,” Nochta said. “We were able to get rid of the brush fire quickly, but with the building being a total loss, we just dumped water on it.”

Along with members of the Bland Fire Protection District, responding agencies included Owensville, Vichy, Cuba, St. James, Belle, Gerald-Rosebud, Gasconade County 911 and Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department, Osage County Ambulance, Inter County Electric, and the state Fire Marshal’s office. Firemen set up a fill site at the Redbird slab on Redbird Road and dismissed some of the responding departments.

Nochta said he left the scene briefly after requesting assistance from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Gasconade County Sheriff’s Department. When he returned later, Fire Marshal Aaron Sutton was on scene. Firemen agreed the vehicle parked in front of the center which burned was a Chevrolet Tahoe. Nochta said the VIN numbers were unreadable. The Fire Marshal’s investigator had the vehicle towed and impounded.

While attempting to get the work underway, Nochta said the community was instrumental in helping.

“Initially, everything is really chaotic, and going fast,” he said. “A lot of citizens and neighbors were out there and helping us get going.”

Unfortunately, the building was not insured yet, and with no leads on who is responsible, citizens will be left without a community center.

“It is still under investigation,” Nochta said. “The locals didn’t know whose vehicle it was. We are waiting on the Fire Marshal’s Office because we all want to know what happened.”

Nochta said community members have been working to complete the center over the past several years. The building was thought to have originated from 1886 and has taken a lot of work for volunteers to come so far.

It was used as a school house until 1953 when consolidation occurred and students began attending classes in Bland. A community women’s club used the facility and it also served as a voting precinct. Funerals, large dinners, pie suppers, ice cream socials and 4-H events were also held there, according to history provided by Nochta.

For the past 20 years, building has been used as a community center. Donations from local residents and businesses have funded improvements to the building.

“I had heard from one of the people involved that it was an old building and they were trying to find someone to insure it,” Nochta said. “They put a lot of heart and time and personal money into that; they had been refurbishing it for quite some time.”

One resident said two years ago they redid the lights and wiring. Some were talking about past relatives being students there.

“It was very strange and odd and unfortunate,” Nochta said. “For the community, restoring the community center and trying to get the community involved there, it already had events scheduled. It’s heartbreaking for them.”

Community trail rides have helped fund improvements and upkeep on the building over the past few years, according to Nochta.

“The community is planning to make adjustments after the terrible incident and rebuild a building and continue the community gatherings,” Nochta said. “They are still planning on having our trail ride on the 28th, to raise money for the school house, and will send me a flyer on that too.”