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Just two months after a deal was hammered out to give it new life as a facility for kids' sports, a 78-year-old abandoned stadium on the National Register of Historic Places went up in flames Monday in Eugene, Oregon, as onlookers mournfully sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
No injuries were reported, and the fire was declared under control about 7:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET), about two hours after it was reported at Civic Stadium, Eugene-Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves said. But a two-square-block-wide area around Civic Stadium remained under evacuation Monday night as a plume of gray smoke towered over the city of 159,000 people in western Oregon.
"This fire will probably be burning through tonight into tomorrow and the next day," said Graves, who said the cause remained undetermined.
Civic Stadium, which was owned by the Eugene School District and seats 6,800 people, was home to baseball, football and other sports until the minor-league Eugene Emeralds left the site in 2009.
Jeff Oliver of Eugene, who once operated the scoreboard for the Emeralds and coached high school baseball at the stadium, called it a "surreal" scene.
"There was easily a thousand people lining the street watching it," Oliver told NBC News. "People didn't want to leave. They wanted to get that last memory.
"There were people crying and singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'" Oliver said.
The school district listed the stadium as surplus property after the Emeralds left, setting off years of negotiations over its future, which at times included discussions to raze it and build residential units.
But in April, the private, nonprofit Eugene Civic Alliance acquired most of the property, with plans to renovate it for soccer and as a site for the nonprofit children's program Kidsports, the Register-Guard newspaper reported.
Monday, those plans appeared to be going up in smoke.
"Civic Stadium is an iconic structure in Eugene and the surrounding area. I know it's a place I took my kids when they were younger," Graves said. "It's a tragic loss, especially just on the verge of having a beautiful complex built here."
People across the state recalled their own childhood memories as they mourned the fire: