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Widow of Ore. firefighter files $20.5M lawsuit

St. Paul Firefighter Austin Smith’s wife filed suit against the farm over negligence leading to explosion


Thousands gathered Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at the St. Paul Rodeo stadium to pay tribute to fallen firefighter Austin Garrett Smith

Mark Graves/TNS

BY Zane Sparling

ST. PAUL, Ore. — A volunteer firefighter responding to a St. Paul barn blaze two years ago died after flammable gasses built up inside a freezer and suddenly exploded, a lawsuit filed by the firefighter’s widow and daughter claims.

Austin Smith, a 30-year-old St. Paul firefighter and hops farmer, died early Feb. 3, 2022, while setting up a defensive perimeter at the barn in rural Marion County.

The barn, part of the long-running pasture poultry operation Champoeg Farm, contained a freezer with foam insulation that was “confining and compressing dangerous and flammable gasses which are known to cause a violent detonation upon the exposure to any open flame,” the suit says.

Smith died instantly in the explosion, leaving behind his wife, Ashley Smith, and an unborn daughter he didn’t know was in utero yet, according to the suit.

Ashley Smith and her daughter, whose attorney didn’t respond to request for comment, now seek $20.5 million in Marion County Circuit Court from the farm and its owners, Mark and Catherine Anderson.

The suit claims the Andersons failed to maintain the freezer or warn firefighters of its existence, and also allegedly heaped compost nearby, which can spontaneously combust.

The Andersons’ attorney, Scott Schauermann, said the couple are “devastated” by the loss of life but denied they acted negligently.

“Their deepest sympathies go out to his family. However, the Andersons deny the allegations in the lawsuit or that they were at fault for Austin Smith’s death,” he said.

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