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The skies opened up and the rain came down hard Sunday afternoon, but the Public Safety Chili Cook-Off at the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo Grounds was hardly a washout. In fact, organizers were stunned that so many people turned out.

“We’re shocked, we were really worried about the weather,” Philomath Police Chief Ken Rueben, one of the event’s main organizers, said about two hours into the event. “Of course it’s been awesome weather all year until today.”

In the early hours of the event, a lot of people waited in line to pay their $5 and pick up a cup and tasting spoon.

“At 2:30 today, a half-hour before we opened, we had a line already out to the parking lot,” Rueben said. “People were showing up early and then at about 3:30, we had a line from the front all the way out to 13th Street. It was great.”

In fact, someone had to make a run to the store to pick up more cups. The original count of about 5,500 just wasn’t enough. By the time it ended, Rueben estimated attendance at over 650.

The chance of rain on Sunday really had the organizers worried in the week leading up to the cook-off.

“We were looking at the forecast all week and hot happy,” Rueben said. “There’s just been a lot of work. Everybody puts in a lot of work getting ready for this and all the teams and preparing and then with the rain, we were worried, especially since it’s a new venue, too.”

After taking a year off to reorganize, the chili cook-off moved from the Benton County Fairgrounds over to the Philomath rodeo grounds. The reincarnation of the event featured a larger venue, new team divisions and an expanded lineup of activities.

“There’s plenty of room for everybody and we hope it gets bigger,” said Capt. Morgan Taphouse with the Benton County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. “When we had it over at the fairgrounds, we were starting to outgrow it, so here we can spread out a little; it feels comfortable.”

At least one team wasn’t 100 percent pleased with how the event was put together in terms of the way booths were situated.

“I like the roominess that the booths have but I feel like we’re kind of in a dead end over here … maybe make it a loop, said Niki Kelley, a nurse with the Benton County Jail team that had a “Dukes of Hazzard” theme. “Otherwise, the venue’s been fine.”

Organizers no doubt will take suggestions on how to make things better for the next time around.

Nineteen teams participated in the cook-off with teams split up into four divisions. Winners included the Corvallis Regional Communication Center (Public Safety), Linn County Sheriff’s Office (Law Enforcement), Philomath Lions Club (Restaurants) and the Philomath Frolic & Rodeo (Businesses).

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The People’s Choice Award went to O’Brien Dental Lab and the fundraising winner was the Philomath Police Department.

The Philomath Police Foundation, Benton County Sheriff’s Foundation and Benton County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse organized the event. Proceeds go to help support those organizations along with a nonprofit recipient that is chosen, which this year was the ABC House Child Abuse Intervention Center in Albany.

Benton County also hosted its Emergency Preparedness Fair in conjunction with the chili cook-off. Several exhibits were set up and various demonstrations were offered.

“The main push and the reason for this really is just to increase awareness,” said Brian Lee, Benton County Emergency Services planner. “September’s National Disaster Preparedness Month, so we’re really trying to capitalize on the push, especially with the recent hurricane, of course, on the East Coast to get people engaged and prepared.”

Lee said his organization is encouraging individual-level household preparedness. So what’s the big disaster that most people wonder about?

“Everyone is focused on the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake but honestly it’s wildfire. That’s our No. 1 focus,” Lee said.

Serving as judges were Douglas Bailey, Buzz Brazeau, Heather Delbert, Manny Mejia, Eric Niemann, Eddie Van Vlack, Marc Vomocil, Joan Wessell and Tim Vincent.

Van Vlack and Brazeau served as judges for the restaurant division, which also included a service organization, the Philomath Lions Club.

“There were two that separated themselves,” said Van Vlack after finishing up his final sample. “We wanted a little bit of spice to put beads of sweat on our foreheads.”

Both said they love chili and the only thing that might make it better would be a large-screen TV in the judge’s area so they could also keep up on the NFL.

“Where can you find something better to do where you get to eat chili,” said Brazeau, who is the school superintendent this academic year. “The only thing better to improve it would be if you’re eating chili and you’re in your recliner and you have a ballgame on.”

Rueben was so prepared that he even had backup judges ready to step in, if needed.

“We actually had four extra judges just in case that were willing to help out,” he said. “It such a great event, people really stepped up to help.”

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