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Officials Trace Cause of Barn Fire to Oily Rags

Spontaneous combustion among a pile of oil-soaked rags was to blame for a fire that burned down a 6,000-square-foot wooden barn on rural Potrero Road, officials said Wednesday.

Gil Michaels’ 1935 barn went up in flames after a fire ignited inside about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Because of a lack of water on the property, the fire was left to run its course while firefighters protected a neighbor’s nearby $2-million home.

Several rags soaked with a wood stain that contained linseed oil had been left piled inside the barn, which was being renovated, according to Russ Cole, a Ventura County fire-prevention supervisor. The barn was valued at $500,000.

“This was not a criminal act, but it was due to those rags soaked with oil,” Cole said.

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Fire officials, though, were planning to investigate whether Michaels was required to have an on-site water supply. Although sprinklers had been installed in the barn, they had not yet been hooked up, Cole said.

Michaels told fire officials that he was remodeling the barn, but that he wasn’t changing the barn’s function as a stable and tack room, which meant he was not required to have a water supply or even to install sprinklers, Cole said.

Michaels told reporters Tuesday night, however, that part of the barn was to be used for staff housing and office space, which would have required a water supply on-site, Cole said.

Last weekend, Michaels requested that fire-prevention officials inspect his barn for safety, Cole said. Fire-prevention officers received the request Monday, but had not scheduled an inspection time, which can sometimes take up to a week, he added.

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