- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Flathead County officials are probing whether a fire that damaged the Majestic Valley Arena near Kalispell on Saturday was caused by arson.

The Daily Inter Lake reported (http://bit.ly/1AaTo5Z ) that the fire forced the cancellation of a Wrangler Team Roping Championships event that would have hosted 600 to 700 teams on Saturday.

The fire damaged office space in the 55,750-square-foot arena, on U.S. 93, about 6 miles north of Kalispell.

Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said the cause of the fire was suspicious and that a county team was investigating it as a possible arson.

West Valley Fire Chief Russ Sappington said most of the damage was done to the front portion of the building, which is mostly office space. The West Valley Fire Department received the call at 5:37 a.m.

“The main fire itself was knocked down in about 20 minutes,” Sappington said. “But it got into some open gaps between the front of the building and the interior wall, so we had to get in there and get those hot spots out.”

The fire was out by 7 a.m., Sappington said. West Valley Fire was assisted by the Kalispell, South Kalispell, Smith Valley and Evergreen fire departments as well as the Sheriff’s Office.

There was extensive fire damage in the south office area, with smoke damage in the north offices. Both are located near the front entrance. There was also minor smoke damage throughout the arena, prompting the cancellation of the team roping event.

The event began Friday night with about 100 teams competing and about 30 spectators, said Jed Jacobs, producer of the event.

Saturday’s event would have been much larger with 600 or 700 teams. Instead, Jacobs and his team are headed back to their home base in Idaho with about 100 head of cattle and five horses.

“The hard part for us is that there’s so much expense to put the event on and it all comes to a screeching halt,” Jacobs said.

It was the first roping event of the season for the Wrangler Team Roping Championships, which puts on events all over the western United States. With events scheduled months in advance, it will be hard to reschedule this one, Jacobs said. Later competitions are scheduled at Majestic Valley Arena in March and June.

Photographer Philip Granrud of Kalispell saw the fire. “The wind chill was really brutal out there,” he said. “At first I thought it was really going to spread, but it stayed localized and the firefighters seemed to knock the main part of it out pretty quickly.”

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Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com

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